Celebrating the second year of Columbus in space
Two years ago, ESA's Columbus laboratory joined the International Space Station on 11 February 2008, heralding the start of operation for Europe's first permanent outpost in space.
This week marks the second anniversary of Europe's Columbus laboratory as a full and integrated part of the International Space Station. The anniversary of the orbiting laboratory coincides with the firm intention, expressed by NASA and its four international partners, to extend operation of ISS operations to 2020.
"In two years, we have managed to blend completely into the operations world of the ISS," said ESA's Reinhold Ewald, Head of the Flight Operations Division at 'Col-CC' – the Columbus Control Centre in Germany. "It has been quite a challenge since we could not simulate operations of the Columbus module on the ground. We had to learn to run all interactive aspects of the operations while flying on the orbital outpost. It proves the quality of our preparations and it obviously shows at the same time the overall engagement of ESA and its industrial partners in the ISS."
The Columbus Control Centre is located at the German Aerospace Centre's facility in Oberpfaffenhofen, near Munich.
730 days of uninterrupted operations
Within two years of Columbus launch, the amount of crew time dedicated to science and technology research with ESA experiments has progressively improved: from 6% in April 2008 to 46% in February 2010. "For 730 days, we have not stopped, even for a single day, operation of the Columbus system and ground segment. This is a significant achievement," said Bob Chesson, Head of ESA's Human Spaceflight Operations Department.
More than 45 basic research experiments in various scientific disciplines have been performed by all nine of Europe's Columbus User Support and Operation Centres (USOCs). The USOCs are established in the European countries participating in the ISS and are connected to Col-CC as the central hub that supports them and interfaces with the Columbus lab in orbit.
In 2004, ESA assigned the technical management of Columbus operations to an industry consortium: the Industrial Operator Team (IOT). This is a joint industrial effort, led by Astrium-ST-Germany and Thales Alenia Space-Italy, with the participation of the German Aerospace Center, aimed at providing an end-to-end service to ESA. In this arrangement, ESA retains the overall management of the mission, while the IOT is responsible for the day-to-day technical management of European assets such as laboratories, ground network and space experiments involved in the ISS Increments.
"After two years of successful and uninterrupted operation of Europe's Columbus lab, we are very proud of our teams who have made this achievement possible. There is a very good interaction between the ESA teams and the IOT operating Columbus. A lot of personal engagement and commitment is required to solve problems and ensure 24-hour-per-day operations. Since this is the first project of this nature in Europe, lessons learnt and improvements have been implemented to establish a robust system," said Helmut Luttmann, Columbus Head of Operations & Missions at Astrium-ST.
"With the discussions among ISS partners, it is really good news that we almost have the guarantee now to extend the station lifetime to 2020. It brings some stability into the programme and in the scientific community working on ISS. 2020 represents a solid perspective for us to settle into affordable and meaningful operations of the Station," said Reinhold Ewald.
Anniversary celebration at the world's largest science museum
To mark the second anniversary of Columbus operations, a series of events has been scheduled on 12 February at the Deutsches Museum, Munich, the world's largest museum of technology and science. Control centre consoles and displays from Col-CC will be exhibited and flight control engineers will be on hand to explain their daily work to museum visitors.
The day will start with presentations for the public and media on the Columbus programme, made by Reinhold Ewald and by Thomas Kuch, Head of Mission Operations at Col-CC. ESA astronaut Leopold Eyharts will also take part.
Two years ago, in February 2008, Eyharts was one of two ESA astronauts involved in the installation and activation of the Columbus laboratory. Afterwards, he remained on board the station as a member of the ISS Expedition 16 crew. He returned to Earth in March 2008.