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Science & Exploration

N° 38–1999: A room with a view .... on space

20 September 1999

Astronauts on board the International Space Station will be able to look out and see the Earth, other planets and stars thanks to technology developed by European industry for ESA. Engineers across Europe are currently hard at work developing a set of windows for the Space Station capable of withstanding years of exposure to radiation and particle bombardment in space. Besides giving astronauts a direct view of external areas of the Space Station and facilitating scientific observation of celestial bodies and the Earth, the windows will perform an important psychological function, allowing astronauts to look down on our home planet.

The windows area, called the Cupola because of its domed, hexagonal shape, nearly 2 metres in diameter, will also house the control stand for the Space Station robotic arm in support of station robotics and assembly operations. Initially, in August 2003, the Cupola will be mounted on the Unity connecting node already in orbit. It will later be moved to the forward port on node 3 to provide a better view. The Cupola has six windows offering 360° vision plus a seventh on the top. Each window has a shutter to shade and protect the fused silica glass when the Cupola is not in use.

The industrial prime contractor for the Cupola is Alenia Aerospazio of Italy. The shuttters are built by CASA (E) and the secondary structure by Verhaert (B). The meteorite and debris protection system and mechanical ground support equipment comes from Apco (CH). SAAB (S) will produce the harness, Lindholmen Development (S) is in charge of the Cupola mock-up and associated ergonomics analysis, while DASA-Dornier (D) is in charge of life support analysis.

A mock-up of the Cupola will be ready for an expert review involving ESA and NASA astronauts, starting Monday 27 September at the Lindholmen industrial test facility in Göteborg, Sweden. On Thursday 30 September, Media representatives are invited to a briefing in Göteborg where they will be able to meet ESA and Industry specialists and astronauts involved in the programme (see schedule attached).