ISS 20 YEARS of LIFE IN THE SPACE
A symbol of exploration, possibilities, research & collaboration, the International Space Station completes twenty years of human habitation beyond planet earth
Last month November 2, 2020 marked twenty years since the International Space Station received its first residents. Since then the orbiting habitat, also referred to as an orbiting laboratory, the International Space Station (ISS) has stayed occupied, making it possible for humans to live in space.
The ISS is a modular space station (habitable artificial satellite) in low Earth orbit. It is a collective project involving multinational collaboration of space agencies like NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), ESA (European Space Agency), and CSA (Canadian Space Agency). The ISS is now composed of 16 modules: four Russian, nine US, two Japanese and one European.
Through these 20 years, the ISS has been orbiting earth as a symbol of possibility, exploration, potential, science, engineering, and working together. After 20 years of continuous human presence, the ISS has provided 241 visitors with an extraordinary view of Earth from outer space — the glimpse of which they have shared with the entire world.
Astronaut photography, formally called Crew Earth Observations (CEO), has resulted in more than 3.5 million photographs of the ever-changing blue planet through astronauts as well as an impressive suite of Earth Science instruments that have also visited the station to capture vast amounts of data about our planet.
However, NASA points out that space aboard the station itself is limited, and the spots are highly coveted. Instruments go through a rigorous approval process and cycle through every couple of years, turning the station into a virtual swiss-army knife of interchangeable remote sensing tools.
These instruments together provide a more complete picture of Earth systems, according to William Stefanov, Branch Chief for the Exploration Science Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and Principal Investigator for the Crew Earth Observations Facility on the International Space Station.
20 YEARS OF SPACE COMMUNICATION
The ISS is largely deemed as a marvel of cooperative engineering, science, and research. Throughout the mission, NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) networks have connected station astronauts with loved ones on Earth and empowered profound research on the orbiting laboratory.
“As we celebrate 20 years of science and research aboard the station, we also celebrate the mission-enabling support infrastructure that makes it all possible. Space communications has always been a vital piece of NASA’s crewed missions in low-Earth orbit and beyond,” said Robyn Gatens, Acting Director of the International Space Station at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
It was in November 20, 1998 that the construction of the ISS in orbit started, when the Zayra Module launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Since then, the orbiting laboratory has been expanded and upgraded to meet the needs of astronauts living on the station and the science objectives of the mission.
Since November 2, 2000, the space station has been occupied continuously by astronauts from NASA and international space organisations. The million-pound spacecraft has an internal pressurised volume equal to that of a Boeing 747, providing living space for six-months long expedition crews of six people, while sometimes hosting up to 13 during crew rotations and shuttle visits.
Most of the communication and occupation on the station has been made possible by NASA’s communications networks.
The station primarily relies on the constellation of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) and associated ground antennas. The orbiting laboratory also has a backup communications system. A series of very-high frequency (VHF) antennas around the world can provide astronauts with voice-only communications in the unlikely event of an emergency.
“NASA’s relay satellites provide the space station with robust, comprehensive services that keep our astronauts connected with mission control at all times. In combination with the redundant VHF network, TDRS assures the continued success and safety of the station,” said Network Services Division Director Susan
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Throughout its history, the space station has also served as a hub for communications research and development. From 2012 to 2019, the SCaN Testbed has also allowed communications engineers to have a platform to study space-based applications of software-defined radios. The Testbed researched innovations like cognitive communications, space-based GPS, and Ka-band communications.
The station has also tested revolutionary optical communications technologies that use infrared lasers to exceed data-rates offered by comparable radio systems.
For 20 years, the astronauts aboard the ISS have conducted science in an extremely unique and quite literally in an out of the world way. Orbiting about 250 miles above our planet, the space station is the only laboratory available for long-duration microgravity research.
NASA noted that during the past two decades, the space station has supported numerous discoveries, scientific publications, unique opportunities, and historic breakthroughs. This research not only helps us explore farther into space, it also benefits us back on Earth.
While the ISS is continuously exploring our home planet, it is pushing further to learn more about the universe as well and at the same time carrying out significant research and experiments to add value to life on earth. Life science continues ramping up aboard the ISS as quite recently, the Expedition 64 crew explores cancer therapies and heart conditions. Through a new cancer study, the space medical research could accelerate the development of advanced therapies on Earth that target cancer cells.
LOW EARTH ORBIT ECONOMY
To tap into the growing opportunities and potential that space exploration has, NASA has also been focusing on Low Earth Orbit Economy for which
After 20 years of continuous human presence, the ISS has provided 241 visitors with an extraordinary view of Earth from outer space — the glimpse of which they have shared with the entire world
the space station has been a key part of supporting that growth.
NASA explains Low-Earth orbit (LEO) encompasses Earthcentered orbits with an altitude of 2,000 km (1,200 mi) or less. For the purposes of the Commercial Use Policy, low-Earth orbit is considered the area in Earth orbit near enough to Earth for convenient transportation, communication, observation and resupply. This is the area where the ISS currently orbits and where many proposed future platforms will be located.
The LEO economy is about the production, distribution, and trade of goods and services within low-Earth orbit. As technology progresses, this economic space will grow to include more groups (including but not limited to governmental, commercial, and academic) that will contribute to the LEO economy’s continued expansion and support future sustainable space enterprises.
Space is a growing industry and low-Earth orbit is full of opportunity which NASA has acknowledged and aims to explore. Establishing a robust LEO economy in which many groups on Earth can participate benefits American industry, promotes technological discovery, and increases benefits for humanity that are discovered or advanced through in-space work and research, the space agency states. Once a thriving economy in low-Earth orbit has been established, NASA can purchase services as one of many customers. This should enable the agency to focus its resources on landing the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024. And when it comes to NASA, the space administration is committed to continuing the sustained human presence in LEO and stimulate this economy as the next step in humanity’s exploration and expansion into the solar system. NASA points out that LEO
While the ISS is continuously exploring our home planet, it is pushing further to learn more about the universe as well and at the same time carrying out significant research and experiments to add value to life on earth.
provides an ideal environment for crew training, fundamental and applied research, and advanced systems development, as well as other activities.
NASA’s investment in the ISS and its commercial activities, including commercial cargo resupply missions, commercial crew, and the ISS National Lab research and development, have led the way to return benefits to NASA and the American economy, and shall eventually look for doing so to the global economy as ISS is but an international entity. A robust and competitive low-Earth orbit (LEO) economy is vital to continued progress in space.
One year ago, NASA announced the agency is opening the space station for business, enabling commercial and marketing opportunities on the station, and the agency has moved forward toward its ultimate goal in low-Earth orbit to partner with industry to achieve a strong ecosystem. Providing expanded opportunities at the ISS to manufacture, market and promote commercial products and services will help catalyze and expand space exploration markets for many businesses.