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The International Space Station

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This 12 months 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 offer electrical energy, storage and propulsion to the ISS in the course of the preliminary phases of meeting. Fascinating the phrase ‘Zarya’ is Russian for dawn and Zarya, being step one in constructing the ISS, was to suggest 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module of the ISS known as Zarya – Picture from NASA  Word: the photo voltaic panels proven are not used and have been retracted.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 as we speak.  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 house. The present crew of the ISS is called 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 massive 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 will not have be attainable to construct the ISS. The truth is, put up 1998, building of the ISS turned the main focus of the shuttle programme. That is illustrated by the statistic that of the 43 house 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, convey recent provides or to rotate crew.

The ISS as we speak

The ISS is proven within the picture on the high of this put up. Though a number of extra building missions are deliberate later this 12 months and in 2019, the elements to be added are comparatively small and building is actually full. The ISS is a really flat construction. It’s 73 metres lengthy and a most of 109 meters vast, 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 appear to be large wings and in whole 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 house (which begins at an altitude of 100 km, see my previous post ), there are enough 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 called its orbital decay and for the ISS is 2 km monthly, which works out at about 70 metres per day. If nothing have been achieved the ISS would progressively return to Earth inside a number of years and because it hit the thicker environment it will 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 fireplace their rocket motors to the identical impact.

As a result of it’s each massive and travels in a low orbit, the ISS might be simply seen from Earth. It’s seen to the bare eye as a slow-moving, brilliant white dot. Its brightness is because of daylight reflecting off its photo voltaic panels. One of the best 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 energy of gravity could be very near zero within the ISS. This is called microgravity and the one place it’s attainable to create a microgravity setting for longer than a couple of minutes is in house. Some examples of this analysis are given under.

  • Fluids might be nearly utterly mixed in microgravity, so physicists can examine fluids that don’t combine nicely on Earth.
  • In microgravity setting combustion happens otherwise. Flames have a spherical form. Within the diagram under, the candle on the left is in regular gravity, whereas the candle on the appropriate is in microgravity.

Picture from NASA

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

However maybe probably the most fascinating 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 many years when astronauts journey to Mars they should spend at the least six months in zero gravity when travelling to the pink planet and an additional six months on the return journey.

  • With none weight to work in opposition to, muscle mass progressively will get smaller and lose their energy. This contains the guts muscle.
  • Fluid shifts across the physique inflicting fluid strain within the mind to extend.
  • One of the vital critical issues is that, with out gravity, a powerful skeleton is just not wanted to assist 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 could possibly 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 must spend many hours a day exercising.  As a result of there isn’t any weight for his or her muscle mass to work in opposition to, astronauts typically spend a big fraction of the day working on a treadmill, utilizing elastic harnesses to offer resistance.

Nevertheless, nothing has been found which may stop the lack of bone density. The speed of bone loss continues at 1-2% monthly and doesn’t stage off after lengthy durations in house. After greater than two years in low gravity, astronauts’ bones can be so weak they’d simply fracture and can be unable to assist 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 major time for the bone density to return to regular.

An additional limiting issue is that on lengthy length spaceflights astronaut can be uncovered to excessive doses of radiation. This will trigger genetic injury making the astronauts extra vulnerable 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 continually pushing them collectively. However with out gravity, the vertebrae will naturally broaden barely, inflicting an individual to change into taller.


Usually, astronauts in house can develop as much as three % of their unique peak. For instance, in 2016 when Scott Kelly got here to Earth after spending almost a 12 months in house he was 2 inches (5 cm) taller. Nevertheless, this acquire in peak is just non permanent. When beneath the results of gravity once more astronauts return to their unique peak.

Scott Kelly – Picture from NASA

Attending to and from the ISS

Because the finish of the Shuttle programme the one method 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 reasonably 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 protect to guard it throughout probably 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 house company to make a major revenue.

Within the subsequent few years US spacecraft ought to return to house.  Reasonably 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 offer crewed launch companies to the ISS.

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

In accordance with the present launch schedule (https://www.nasa.gov/launchschedule/ ), the goal dates for unmanned take a look at flight of each spacecraft are literally this month, August 2018, though exact date haven’t been specified. If there aren’t any additional delays and these take a look at flights do happen this month and are profitable, then in November 2018 the Boeing CT 100 spacecraft would be the first American spacecraft to hold astronauts into orbit because the retirement of the Area Shuttle. This will likely be adopted by the SpaceX Dragon v2 the next month.


Subsequent put up

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



NASA (2018) Worldwide Area Station details and figures, Out there 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,Out there at: http://www.space.com/20897-nasa-russia-astronaut-launches-2017.html(Accessed: 30 July 2018)



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