ISS Everything you always wanted to know about the International Space Station

Iss International space station

International Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS), the only orbital station in service, represents a major step in the knowledge and mastery of this fascinating world by allowing humans to live and work in space. Since the first flight of the Russian Yuri Gagarin in 1961, people have never stopped imagining more and more innovative ways to access and evolve in space in the long term.

Initially planned as a military station by the USA, it has been operated and further developed since the start of its construction in 1998 in international cooperation with 16 states and 5 space agencies. It is the largest satellite in Earth orbit and the largest man-made object in space. The costs for construction and operation amounted to more than one hundred billion euros by 2018.

Characteristics of the ISS

The dimensions of the station are equivalent to those of a football field and more than 40 flights will be necessary in order to assemble the hundred elements that compose it. To achieve this unprecedented scale project, the United States, Canada, Russia, Japan, Brazil, France and ten other European countries that are members of ESA have joined forces. It revolves around the Earth at an altitude of about 400 kilometers (248,54 miles).

Read also: Crew Dragon by SpaceX taking over the crews of the International Space Station

The scientific challenges are sizeable: the ISS represents a unique field of experimentation for life and material sciences, but also a platform for observing the Earth and the universe.

How fast does the iss travel?

Objects orbiting at that altitude travel about 28,000 kilometers per hour (17,500 miles per hour).

Where is the international space station located?

The International Space Station completes multiple orbits around Earth every day, and now you can track the space lab as it passes overhead. At an average altitude of 248 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth, the space station is the third brightest object in the sky.

Live Space Station Tracking Map:


The tracker shows where the Space Station is right now and its path 90 minutes ago (-1.5 hr) and 90 minutes ahead (+1.5 hr). The dark overlay indicates where it is nighttime in the world.

The key dates of the ISS

The launch of the 1st element of the ISS, the Russian module Zarya, took place in 1998 and, since November 2000, three astronauts have permanently occupied the station. Following the Columbia tragedy in February 2003, the configuration of the ISS was modified and integrated the European and Japanese scientific modules (Colombus and Kibo). In 2010, the American segment is completed, the international partners decide to extend the use of the ISS at least until 2020.

In 2011, equipment was transported to the ISS for the last time by shuttle.

Earth Magnetic Field | Nicknamed “earth shield” by Scientists

What is the ISS?

The ISS is the only and largest international space station currently in service. The station moves around the Earth in a low orbit at an altitude of between 360 and 400 kilometers and circles our planet in ninety minutes. Its average speed is 27,600 km/h (7.66 km/s) OR 17149,84 mph (11693,07 miles/second), fast enough to make a Paris-New York in… thirteen minutes.

The station experiences an alternation of 45 minutes in the dark and 45 minutes in the sun 16 times a day. Which makes so many sunsets and sunrises.

The habitable volume of the station is 388 cubic meters. The station is 109 meters long, 73 meters wide, weighs 419 tonnes, and has dozens of modules assembled between 1998 and 2011. It is the most complex and massive object assembled in space. It is also the most expensive man-made ever. It is estimated that its construction cost $ 150 billion.

ISS international space station configuration
International Space Station Configuration. Five spaceships are attached to the space station including the SpaceX Crew Dragon, the HTV-9 resupply ship from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and Russia’s Progress 75 and 76 resupply ships and Soyuz MS-16 crew ship. Photo credit: NASA, Wikimedia Commons

What is the ISS used for?

The ISS is primarily a large science lab where hundreds of experiments take advantage of the station’s microgravity. The station contributes to humanity by collecting data on the global climate, environmental change and natural hazards using its unique complement of crew-operated and automated Earth-observation payloads.
Other areas are involved in experiments, such as fluid physics or materials research.

Who pays for the ISS?

The station is co-managed by five space agencies: NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), ESA (Europe), JAXA (Japan) and ASC (Canada) and is funded by fifteen countries (United States , Russia, Japan, Canada and eleven European countries, including France).

These fifteen countries signed an intergovernmental cooperation agreement on January 29, 1998. The majority of the costs are borne by NASA and, to a lesser extent, by Roscosmos, the Russian agency. European, Canadian and Japanese partners also participate in the financing of the ISS, but to a lesser extent.

The order of the planets closest to the sun

How many people are on the ISS now?

The ISS currently accommodates three people: the Russians Andrei Borisenko and Sergei Ryzhikov, as well as the American Shane Kimbrough, and will count six as soon as Thomas Pesquet and his two colleagues (the American Peggy Whitson and the Russian Oleg Novitskiy) will join the station.

Each group of three astronauts stays at the station for six months before giving way to a new group of three other people. The six occupants of the station form a group called the “expedition”. As soon as a group of three astronauts leave the station, another arrives, starting a new “expedition”.

Expedition 50 began on October 30, 2016 with the departure of the last three members of Expedition 49 and will end in February 2017. Thomas Pesquet will be part of the second part of Expedition 50 and the first part of the ‘expedition 51, until it left the station in May 2017.

Most astronauts stay for six months, but some have been on extended stays. Recently Scott Kelly (USA) and Mikhail Kornienko (Russia) stayed for one year.

How many astronauts were there on the ISS?

If you count tonight’s launch, 228 people have been aboard the ISS since it was first inhabited sixteen years ago. Americans (astronauts) and Russians (cosmonauts) represent the majority of them with 143 and 47 astronauts respectively. This is because these two countries fund the majority of the program.

The 1998 treaty provides that the right to use and stay on board the ISS is conditional on the investments of the various space agencies. The European Space Agency has 8.3% of station usage and “crew time”.

How do you travel to the ISS?

Until 2011, astronauts could reach the ISS by two transport vehicles: the US space shuttle, launched at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the Soyuz spacecraft from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

Since the withdrawal of the American shuttle in July 2011, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft has so far been the only means of reaching the ISS, making the United States dependent on Russia to send its astronauts there. An addiction that should end in 2017 with the first manned flights from Boeing and SpaceX capsules to the station.

What is the typical day for an astronaut?

For practical reasons relating to Russian-American cooperation, the official time on board the station is set to Greenwich (UTC + 0, an hour less than in France).

The crew woke up at 6 a.m. (7 a.m., French time) and carried out a few morning inspections before breakfast at around 7 a.m. At 7:30 a.m., the crew had a conference call with the ground crews (in Houston and Moscow) to prepare for the day’s activities.

The day, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., then from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., is devoted to scientific experiments, station maintenance operations or physical maintenance (two and a half hours of physical activity per day).

The next day’s preparation meeting takes place at 6 p.m. and a second conference with Houston and Moscow is held at 7 p.m. Free time for astronauts is granted after the conference, from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Spacewalk astronauts
STS-116 Shuttle Mission Imagery
Backdropped by a colorful Earth, astronaut Robert L. Curbeam, Jr. (left) and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Christer Fuglesang, both STS-116 mission specialists, participate in the mission’s first of three planned sessions of extravehicular activity (EVA) as construction resumes on the International Space Station. The landmasses depicted are the South Island (left) and North Island (right) of New Zealand.
Explanation: The International Space Station (ISS) will be the largest human-made object ever to orbit the Earth. The station is so large that it could not be launched all at once – it is being built piecemeal with large sections added continually by flights of the Space Shuttle. To function, the ISS needs trusses to keep it rigid and to route electricity and liquid coolants. These trusses are huge, extending over 15 meters long, and with masses over 10,000 kilograms. Pictured above earlier this month, astronauts Robert L. Curbeam (USA) and Christer Fuglesang (Sweden) work to attach a new truss segment to the ISS and begin to upgrade the power grid. Photo credit: NASA, Wikimedia Commons

What territory does the ISS legally belong to?

The treaty signed in 1998 stipulates that the law of the signatory countries applies in the modules that they financed within the station, including in penal and therefore criminal matters. If, for example, Peggy Whitson decided to assassinate her Russian colleague Oleg Novitskiy in the Japanese Kibo laboratory, Japanese laws would apply to the American astronaut.
The agreement provides that any signatory European country can claim the application of its legislation in a European module, which theoretically makes possible disputes between European partners. But in practice, no case or case law exists.

Since the majority of the pressurized and habitable spaces of the ISS are Russian and American, the laws of these two countries would probably apply in the event of a problem in orbit.

Is there a procedure to bring back the astronauts in the event of a problem?

In the event of a problem, two Russian Soyuz vessels are permanently docked to the International Space Station. They tie up when a crew of three arrives and are used by the crew to return to Earth after their stay.

These two vessels can therefore also be used to evacuate the station in the event of a major malfunction that puts the crew at risk, or in the event of a shortage of food. This can theoretically happen if several supplies fail successively.

In an emergency, it is possible to evacuate the station in less than four hours, between the decision to evacuate and the landing of the Soyuz capsules.

The station is fully controllable from the ground and can be kept in orbit for a long time if a supply ship is docked there, allowing its thrust to be used to regularly raise the station’s orbit.

Responsibilities and ground facilities of the ISS operators

The national and international space agencies agreed on the operation of the ISS with the International Space Station Program. The proportion of individual participants in the ISS program varies. This becomes visible in the responsibilities for the operation of the various station modules and the supply and crew spaceships. The operators’ mission control centers are in contact with the crew of the ISS and thus perform a supervisory and controlling function.

  • The Russian space agency Roskosmos in Koroljow , Moscow Oblast , is responsible for the operation of the Russian part of the space station (consisting of the modules Zary , Svesda, Pirs, Poisk, Rassvet ) , as well as the Soyuz and Progress trips.
  • The US space agency NASA is in contact with the US part of the space station through the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston. In addition, the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville , Alabama, is in contact with the crew during scientific experiments on board the ISS.
  • The European space agency ESA operates the European space flight control center in Darmstadt and the Columbus control center , which is in contact with the crew of the ISS when they are doing experiments in the Columbus module.In addition, the French space agency CNES was involved in the European ATV cargo flights from the Guiana spaceport through the Toulouse Space Center.
  • The Japanese space agency JAXA operates the Kibō module from the Tsukuba Space Center and was responsible for monitoring the supply flights of the H-2 Transfer Vehicle.
  • The Canadian space agency CSA monitors, among other things, the operation of the Canadarm2 robot arm via the John H. Chapman Space Center in Longueuil and is in contact with Canadian space travelers.

What will become of the station?

The International Space Station will remain operational at least until 2024, when the various partners have committed to funding the program (with the exception of ESA, which is expected to give its approval in early December 2016).

However, according to François Spiero, head of human spaceflight at CNES (Centre national d’études spatiales or The National Centre for Space Studies), “the station’s systems are qualified until 2028”, which makes it possible to operate the station for an additional four years. The program being expensive, “we will clearly see a gradual disengagement of the public authorities” according to François Spiero. “There have been discussions with several private players, especially in the United States. So there will probably be a kind of public-private co-management, ”he adds.

With the advent of private partners, such as SpaceX, NASA will be able to gradually redirect its budget to finance ambitious medium-term projects, such as the return to the moon or manned missions to Mars.

To replace the current International Space Station, the agencies are considering building a station in a cislunar orbit, that is, an orbit around the Earth-Moon pair. This could see the light of day in less than two decades if a program with international funding is put in place, allowing the symbol of a permanent human presence in space to endure for some time.

Sources: PinterPandai, NASA, European Space Agency (ESA)

Photo credit: NASA, Wikimedia Commons

Photo explanations: the International Space Station as seen from the departing Space Shuttle Discovery during STS-119. In view are the four pairs of solar arrays mounted along the newly-completed Integrated Truss Structure. The newest and final part of the ITS, launched on this mission, is the S6 truss and arrays, visible to the far left of this image. This image of the station was taken as STS-119 performed a fly around after undocking.

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