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The International Space Station updated

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Because the publication of the unique put up on 2 August 2018, NASA have delayed the deliberate launch dates for the American spacecraft to hold astronauts to and from the Worldwide Area Station. In my unique put up I referred to the Boeing and SpaceX spacecraft taking astronauts this yr, which was an bold goal, taking into consideration that it was already August and neither spacecraft had flown an unmanned mission! Maybe unsurprisingly the deliberate launch dates have slipped into 2019 and I’ve up to date my put up to replicate this.

Authentic put up under——

This yr marks the 20th anniversary of the Worldwide Area Station (ISS).

Image from NASA.

The primary module of the ISS, known as Zarya, was launched by a Russian rocket again in November 1998. Zarya was not an inhabitable module and its perform was to supply electrical energy, storage and propulsion to the ISS in the course of the preliminary levels of meeting. Attention-grabbing the phrase ‘Zarya’ is Russian for dawn and Zarya, being step one in constructing the ISS, was to indicate a brand new daybreak in worldwide cooperation.

The primary module of the ISS known as Zarya – Picture from NASA  Word: the photo voltaic panels proven are not used and have been retracted.

The ISS has a modular design and within the twenty years since Zarya quite a few modules have been added, progressively rising it into the construction we see right this moment.  A key milestone was achieved on 2 November 2000 when a Russian Soyuz spacecraft purchased the primary crew to the ISS. The ISS has been manned ever since that date, offering a everlasting human presence in area. The present crew of the ISS is named Expedition 56 and consists of three People, two Russians and one German.

Mission patch for Expedition 56 – Picture from NASA

Key position of the Area Shuttle

Picture from NASA

The American Area Shuttle, which flew between 1981 and 2011, was key to constructing the ISS. The Shuttle had the capability to take giant modules in its cargo bay and crews of as much as six astronauts on meeting missions. Many of those missions concerned prolonged spacewalks. Certainly, with out the Area Shuttle it might not have be doable to construct the ISS. In actual fact, put up 1998, building of the ISS grew to become the main target of the shuttle programme. That is illustrated by the statistic that of the 43 area Shuttle Missions flown after the launch of Zarya, 38 (89%) of them went to the ISS to ship a brand new module and elements to the station, carry contemporary provides or to rotate crew.

The ISS right this moment

The ISS is proven within the picture on the high of this put up. Though just a few extra building missions are deliberate later this yr and in 2019, the elements to be added are comparatively small and building is basically full. The ISS is a really flat construction. It’s 73 metres lengthy and a most of 109 meters large, however its most depth is only some metres. It has a mass of 420 tons. Its most noticeable function are the eight separate units of photo voltaic panels, which seem like big wings and in complete generate as much as 90 kilowatts of electrical energy (NASA 2018).

The orbit of the ISS 

The ISS orbit is sort of completely round, simply over 400 km above the Earth’s floor. At this altitude, though it’s categorised as area (which begins at an altitude of 100 km, see my previous post ), there are ample traces of the Earth’s environment to trigger the ISS to lose power because it strikes in opposition to the air resistance attributable to this very skinny gasoline. This causes the ISS to very progressively spiral all the way down to Earth because it loses a small quantity of power on every orbit. The space a satellite tv for pc drops in altitude is named its orbital decay and for the ISS is 2 km per 30 days, which works out at about 70 metres per day. If nothing have been accomplished the ISS would progressively return to Earth inside just a few years and because it hit the thicker environment it might disintegrate. To forestall this occurring the ISS has a set of thrusters, that are fired periodically to spice up it into a better orbit. Visiting spacecraft additionally hearth their rocket motors to the identical impact.

As a result of it’s each giant and travels in a low orbit, the ISS will be simply seen from Earth. It’s seen to the bare eye as a slow-moving, vibrant white dot. Its brightness is because of daylight reflecting off its photo voltaic panels. The perfect time to see it’s both after sundown or earlier than dawn, when the station stays sunlit, however the sky is darkish.  That is proven within the diagram under.

The ISS takes about 90 minutes to finish an orbit. Because it strikes round its orbit:

  • the ISS is seen at evening between sundown, level A, and when it disappears behind the Earth’s shadow, level B;
  • between factors B and C the ISS is within the Earth’s shadow it receives no direct daylight and can’t be seen;
  • between level C, when it emerges from the Earth’s shadow, and level D, dawn, the ISS is seen;
  • between factors D and A, the ISS can’t be simply seen in opposition to the brightness of the daytime sky.

Due to its dimension, the ISS is the brightest synthetic object within the sky and has the same brightness when overhead to the planet Venus.


Analysis on the ISS

A great deal of analysis is carried out on the ISS. That is described in additional element on the following web site  https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/overview.html.  A lot of this analysis is predicated upon the truth that that the power of gravity could be very near zero within the ISS. This is named microgravity and the one place it’s doable to create a microgravity setting for longer than a couple of minutes is in area. Some examples of this analysis are given under.

  • Fluids will be virtually fully mixed in microgravity, so physicists can examine fluids that don’t combine nicely on Earth.
  • In microgravity setting combustion happens in another way. Flames have a spherical form. Within the diagram under, the candle on the left is in regular gravity, whereas the candle on the proper is in microgravity.

Picture from NASA

  • Analysis has been carried out as to how crops develop in microgravity. Apparently, outcomes have proven that crops use mild somewhat than gravity to find out which path is ‘up’.

However maybe essentially the most attention-grabbing space of analysis are the results on the human physique of spending lengthy durations on time in weightlessness. This space is essential, as a result of within the subsequent few a long time when astronauts journey to Mars they should spend not less than six months in zero gravity when travelling to the purple planet and an additional six months on the return journey.

  • With none weight to work in opposition to, muscle groups progressively will get smaller and lose their power. This consists of the center muscle.
  • Fluid shifts across the physique inflicting fluid stress within the mind to extend.
  • Some of the severe issues is that, with out gravity, a powerful skeleton just isn’t wanted to help the physique. Research have proven that astronauts lose 1-2 % of their bone mass for every month of weightlessness; the calcium from their bones is excreted of their urine. A lot calcium could also be misplaced that it may well trigger kidney stones

Analysis on the ISS has proven that to retain their muscle mass, and guarantee their coronary heart stays in good situation, astronauts have to spend many hours a day exercising.  As a result of there isn’t a weight for his or her muscle groups to work in opposition to, astronauts typically spend a big fraction of the day operating on a treadmill, utilizing elastic harnesses to supply resistance.

Nonetheless, nothing has been found which might stop the lack of bone density. The speed of bone loss continues at 1-2% per 30 days and doesn’t stage off after lengthy durations in area. After greater than two years in low gravity, astronauts’ bones can be so weak they’d simply fracture and can be unable to help their weight then they returned to Earth. This can be a limiting issue for the way lengthy people can spend in zero gravity environments, particularly because it takes a big time for the bone density to return to regular.

An extra limiting issue is that on lengthy length spaceflights astronaut can be uncovered to excessive doses of radiation. This may trigger genetic harm making the astronauts extra susceptible to most cancers in later life.

Taller Astronauts

Spending time in a microgravity setting causes the backbone to elongate. On Earth, gravity retains the vertebrae in place by continuously pushing them collectively. However with out gravity, the vertebrae will naturally develop barely, inflicting an individual to turn into taller.


Usually, astronauts in area can develop as much as three p.c of their unique top. For instance, in 2016 when Scott Kelly got here to Earth after spending almost a yr in area he was 2 inches (5 cm) taller. Nonetheless, this acquire in top is just short-term. When below the results of gravity once more astronauts return to their unique top.

Scott Kelly – Picture from NASA

Attending to and from the ISS

Because the finish of the Shuttle programme the one manner astronauts can get to and from the ISS is by the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, a degree price remembering now that relations between the US and Russia are somewhat strained.  Soyuz was first flown in 1967 and its design has modified little since then. Just like the Apollo spacecraft which took astronauts to the Moon, it is a single use spacecraft. The astronauts return to Earth in a small capsule which has a warmth defend to guard it throughout essentially the most harmful a part of the mission, re-entry into the Earth’s environment. Presently NASA pay $70 million for every astronaut who flies within the Soyuz spacecraft (Wall 2013), which permits the Russian area company to make a big revenue.

Within the subsequent few years US spacecraft ought to return to area.  Quite than construct a brand new craft to fly crew to and from the ISS, NASA administer a US-government funded programme known as Industrial Crew Improvement (CCDev). After a prolonged analysis course of NASA introduced in September 2014 that Boeing and SpaceX had acquired contracts to supply crewed launch companies to the ISS.

When the ultimate choice was made, NASA hoped that the profitable firms would be capable of launch manned missions to the ISS by 2017. Nonetheless, maybe unsurprisingly, there have been quite a few delays within the improvement of each spacecraft and the launch dates have slipped.

In keeping with the present launch schedule (https://www.nasa.gov/launchschedule/ ), the goal dates for unmanned check flights are:

  • ‘late 2018 / early 2019’ for the Boeing spacecraft
  • ‘November 2018’ for SpaceX.

Nonetheless, it should be be identified that they’re solely goal dates and will slip additional.

If there aren’t any additional delays and these check flights do happen as deliberate and are profitable, then in April 2019 the SpaceX Dragon v2 spacecraft would be the first American spacecraft to hold astronauts into orbit because the retirement of the Area Shuttle. This can be adopted by the Boeing CT100, proven under, in the midst of the yr.

The Boeing CT-100 Starliner Area Capsule – picture from NASA. In lmid 2019 this spacecraft might take astronauts to and from the ISS.

Subsequent put up

I hope you’ve loved this put up. In my subsequent put up I’ll discuss concerning the prices of the area station, worldwide cooperation in area and the way I see the way forward for the ISS.



NASA (2018) Worldwide Area Station info and figures, Obtainable at: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/facts-and-figures (Accessed: 30 July 2018).


Wall, M (2013) NASA to pay $70 Million a seat to fly astronauts on Russian spacecraft,Obtainable at: http://www.space.com/20897-nasa-russia-astronaut-launches-2017.html(Accessed: 30 July 2018)



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