Agenzia Spaziale Italiana

Italy and the International Space Station

Italy’s role in the largest international collaboration ever made

Outpost of space colonization, one of a kind scientific research laboratory, experimental testing ground for the latest technologies. The International Space Station (ISS) is the most important international cooperation program ever undertaken in the field of science and technology. 

Since 2000, when the first permanent crew boarded, the ISS (whose construction began in 1998) ensures an uninterrupted human presence in space. With its seven pressurized laboratories and nine external platforms, it represents an actual orbiting laboratory for scientific and technological research. It allows to conduct experiments in various fields that are impossible to conduct on Earth, from physics to chemistry, from biology to medicine and physiology, and of course in the observation field of the universe and the planet Earth.  

Since 2010, the International Space Station consists of an ensemble of 74 meters long pressurized modules and a lattice structure that, extending for 110 meters, supports the solar panels for the generation of electricity and the radiators for dissipation of excess heat. 

A series of functional elements of the Station have been assembled on this structure, including a Canadian robotic arm and four platforms to accommodate payloads and external experiments. The entire complex covers an area equal to that of a football pitch. 

The living space is equal to 935 cubic meters (equal to the volume of two jumbo jets) and includes, among others, the following laboratories: 

Destiny: US multidisciplinary laboratory;
Columbus: European multidisciplinary laboratory; 
Kibo: Japanese multidisciplinary laboratory;
Russian Research Module: Russian multidisciplinary laboratory. 

Italy plays a particularly important role in this program, taking part in three ways: 

• through the bilateral agreement between the ASI and NASA for the supply by the ASI of three logistic modules (MPLM) in exchange for the right to use the station;
• through participation within the European Space Agency, primarily to the realization of the Columbus laboratory;
• through an agreement with NASA and ESA for the construction in Italy of Nodes 2 and 3 of the Space Station. 

Moreover, the Italian industry has been strongly committed to the implementation of key elements of the station developed by the European Space Agency (Cupola, ATV).

The Cupola (Dome) is the observation space module that allows astronauts to see directly outside the ISS. It has a hemispherical shape with a diameter of 3 meters, 6 side windows, and an upper window and allows the presence of various astronauts. The dome is particularly useful for some purposes: it is possible to control the progress of the astronauts outside the structure; the docking operations and the robotic arm of the space station can be directly controlled. It is also possible to obtain photographs of the Earth from space and observe celestial bodies.

The launch of the module took place on February 8, 2010 with the mission STS-130, along with Node 3, and Tranquility. Installation was completed and the module made operational on February 17, 2010.


The MPLMs (Multi Purpose Logistics Modules) Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello were pressurized modules for transportation aboard the International Space Station of equipment, supplies and experimental equipment by means of the Space Shuttle. The modules were taken into orbit in the cargo bay of the shuttle: they went 'retired' together with the NASA spacecraft. 

Each MPLM could remain docked to the station for a week, remaining accessible to the astronauts who could easily carry out the loading and unloading operations. On completion of the operation, the MPLM would be undocked from the station and stowed inside the shuttle for its return to Earth. Until their retirement, the MPLMs have carried out 12 missions with full success. Each module is designed to perform 25 missions over an operational lifetime of ten years.

The MPLM Leonardo is still operational: it has been transformed from a Logistics Transport Module to a Permanent Module, becoming part of the Station. Its new name is PMM, Permanent Multipurpose Module. It has a cylindrical aluminium structure weighing about 4500 kg made with curved welded panels, 6.6 m long, with a diameter of 4.5 m. Leonardo was carried into orbit by the shuttle Discovery on the STS-33 mission, and since March 1, 2011 it has increased the habitable volume of the ISS of 70 cubic meters, being used to house scientific experiments and support materials for the astronauts.

Nodes 2 and 3 are interconnection elements between different laboratories of the Station and provide docking points for vehicles that periodically visit the station. In particular, Node 2 guarantees the connection and the distribution of the different "utilities" (power, air, communications) to the US laboratory Destiny, already in orbit, to the European laboratory Columbus, launched in the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle Atlantis on February 7, 2008 with flight STS-122 and the Japanese laboratory Kibo, which became operational in 2009.  

In addition to these functions, Node 2 has increased the living space available to the astronauts. Whereas, Node 3 houses an air and water regeneration system that allow to increase the permanent members of the Station’s crew to 6.

Node 2 was the main load of the STS-120 mission carrying the Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, whose launch took place on October 23, 2007.  

On the basis of an agreement between NASA and ESA, the ASI had, up until July 2004, the delegation of responsibility for the creation of Node 2 and Node 3 of the ISS. Node 2 was delivered to NASA in June 2003 and under the same agreement ASI designed and brought Node 3 to an advanced stage of production, which was launched on February 8, 2010 with the STS-130 mission aboard space shuttle Endeavour. It docked to the space station on February 12, 2010.