Europe’s patience with NASA’s successful efforts to safely return the shuttle to flight will soon be rewarded with the flight of their Columbus module to the International Space Station (ISS), which has completed a full programme of system validation tests.
The 13 day mission, set to launch on Discovery’s next flight, STS-122, will finally see the major element of Europe’s contribution installed into the orbital outpost, following large delays due to the loss of Columbia in 2003.
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Discovery is officially set to launch late 2007. The IE mission is a vital component to expanding the station’s ability to supporting six ISS crewmembers.
Columbus – which was built by EADS Space Transportations – has a 10 year lifespan, and is equipped with flexible research facilities that offer extensive science capabilities, including thousands of experiments in life sciences, materials science, fluid physics and a whole host of other disciplines, all in the weightlessness of orbit.
Bob Chesson, Head of ESA’s Human Spaceflight and Exploration Operations department said that formal qualification and acceptance of the Columbus Control Centre are complete – following its recent use during ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter’s Astrolab mission – confirming that the ground infrastructure is in good shape.
‘We have completed a full programme of system validation tests with the Columbus module demonstrating that the mission control systems can talk to the spacecraft; at this time we have not identified any issues that could change this encouraging status,’ noted Chesson.
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‘We have shown that the operations facilities and teams are on schedule to achieve operational readiness in time for launch.’
Columbus arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in May of 2006, awaiting its turn with a number of other ISS modules set to ride the shuttle to the station before the fleet is retired in 2010. With the completion of the system validation tests with the group support systems, everything is now in place. All that remains is the continued training of the staff that will monitor activities on Columbus once adjoined to the ISS.
‘The (team) are a highly motivated team of engineers and experts who will conduct the 13-day mission together with their counterparts at NASA,’ noted Roland Luettgens, Operations Manager for Columbus.
In March and April 2007, ESA and NASA technicians aided by contractor personnel will begin removing Columbus from temporary storage. Once launched it will be attached to Node 2 starboard docking port.
Its hardware includes: Biolab, Fluid Science Laboratory, European Physiology Module, European Drawer Rack. European Transport Carrier. Data and mission computers Command/Measurement Units, High rate multiplexer, Mass Memory Unit Video Camera (2), and Monitor Audio system, Master Alarm Light panel (2), Fire extinguisher (2) Portable Breathing Apparatus (2).
Inter Module Ventilation valves and fans Thermal Control System valves, Power Distribution Unit, Vital Telemetry Computer units Heat exchangers, Circulation Fan Assembly and External Payload Facility (4).
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