The International Space Station: the brightest star in the sky
The International Space Station is the biggest man-made structure ever assembled in space, and the result of a cooperative effort among five international Partners: the United states, Russia, Japan, Canada and Europe through the European Space Agency.
Orbiting at an altitude of about 400 Kilometres the ISS circles the Earth once every hour and a half. Regular flights bring supplies and experiments and ferry astronauts up and down.
The Station is still under construction, but already houses a permanent crew of three astronauts who perform scientific research. When completed, the Station will be as big as a football field, with an internal volume larger than that of two big passenger aircraft. It will offer enough room for six permanent crewmembers, visitors, and a vast array of scientific experiments.
ESA's facilities, resources and services on board the ISS provide for the accommodation and utilisation of customer's samples and products (so-called 'payloads'). Earthbound facilities and services allow the testing and qualification of payloads, monitor correct operation while aboard the ISS, and collect relevant data.
ESA provides access to a constantly evolving variety of facilities on board the ISS. These can be as easy to use as a fully functioning existing laboratory element, or as adaptable to the exact requirements of the commercial customers as an on-board drawer or locker offering room, a power supply and connectivity to the customers’ own equipment.
ESA will ship the payloads to the Space Station on board one of the available launch vehicles. These include the Russian Soyuz and Proton rockets, the American Space Shuttle, and from 2008 onwards, the European Automated Transfer Vehicle launched on an Ariane-5 rocket. ESA will also ensure the payload’s return to Earth, if necessary.
ESA can arrange for every aspect of the payload's transportation, from initial testing and certification, through the flight itself, to its return to Earth.
Crew time is available for two kinds of activities: IVA or 'Intravehicular Activity'. This covers all activities carried out by astronauts operating within the Space Station.
EVA or 'Extravehicular Activity'. This is the famous space-walk. The term covers all activities carried out outside the Station by astronauts wearing spacesuits.
Both types of crew time can be arranged for commercial clients, but be forewarned: EVAs are complex and demand a lot of training and preparation time.
Payload qualification and safety
Payloads are tested to be qualified for space flight. The tests must demonstrate that the payload can withstand the launch itself, that it can function after launch, that it is safe for the crew and systems on board and that it will function flawlessly throughout its expected lifetime.
The five International Partners have established processes for the qualification and evaluation of payload safety. ESA will perform these processes, which consist of tests, verification and the preparation of standard documentation, or will arrange for a qualified partner to carry them out on behalf of the customers.
Data between the payload and the Station's equipment will be exchanged through a MIL-STD-1553 (two wires) Bus system. Payloads placed on dedicated racks offer local Ethernet connection with uplink up to 72 Kbps and downlink up to 50 Mbps. Communication with the ground is charged per minute of satellite link.
Other resources and services
ESA and its Co-operation Agreement Partners offer a variety of additional ground services including training, design, engineering, ground segment operations, mission operations and payload operations management.