ASI - Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - Mission and Projects ASI - Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - Mission and Projects

Multi Purpose Logistic Module (MPLM)

Three logistic modules built by ASI for the ISS

The MPLMs Leonardo, Raffaello and Donatello are pressurised modules for transporting equipment, supplies and experimental devices on board the International Space Station by using the Space Shuttle. The modules are taken into orbit inside the cargo of the SHUTTLE. Each MPLM can remain docked to the station for a month and is accessible by the astronauts who can easily carry out loading and unloading operations. At the end of the MPLM's operations it is undocked from the Station and put back into the SHUTTLE's cargo hold and returned to Earth. As of today, the MPLMs have successfully performed six missions. Each module was designed to carry out 25 missions within the operational life frame of ten years.


The agreement relative to the development of the Multi Purpose Logistic Module (MPLM) was signed in December 1991 and modified in October 1997 to take into account changes from the new configuration of the space station and Russia's entrance into the programme. Based on the agreement, ASI has developed and supplied to NASA (respectively in 1998, 2000, 2001) three MPLM flight units called Leonardo, Raffaello and Donatello. It then committed to supply support to the operations of the modules in exchange for:

  • Use rights (in terms of allocations in pressurised and external environments, upload, download, mass, volume, energy, crew time, and communications) equal to .85% of NASA's quota.
  • Six flight opportunities for Italian astronauts, three short-term ones as members of the SPACE SHUTTLE and three long-term ones as members of the Station's crew.

Logistic modules Leonardo, Raffaello and Donatello
MPLM (Multi Purpose Logistic Modules) are pressurized modules used to transport to the International Space Station equipments, supplies and experiments through the U.S. spaceship. Modules are launched in orbit inside the shuttle bay of cargo. Each MPLM may be linked to the Station for a week and is approachable by the astronauts who may easily perform loading and downloading activities.


At the end of the activities, MPLM is unhooked from the Station and located inside the hold of the shuttle so as to come back to earth. Each module has been carried out so as to perform 25 missions in ten years (that is its life time). MPLM has a cylindrical shape, is made of steel and weighs about 4500 kg. It is made of curved weld panels 6,6 meters long and with a diameter of 4,5 meters The module is protected by the so called “thermic covers” and by panels serving as a shield in case of crash against a micrometeorite.

The double-ended cylinder is closed by cone-shaped frames equipped with doors that can be opened so as to load experiments and logistic supplies on earth on the one hand, and to allow the ISS’s team to have access, to the other. In order to ensure a suitable environment to astronauts, the module is equipped with systems so as to control the inside atmosphere and to maintain the temperatures both of the on board equipments and of air temperature.


Loads are located inside the stores installed within the inside surface of the module. Five of these stores may contain an electric power as well as a testing refrigeration system. During their stay in orbit “racks” brought from earth are transferred into the modules as well as in the Station laboratories. Afterwards, MPLM is loaded with stores to be brought on earth and located inside the hold of the space shuttle for their re-entry phase. Within these racks, appliances and instruments used for in-orbit research activity will be inserted, as well as not necessary instruments and debris.