The European Space Agency Columbus
laboratory is ESA's biggest single contribution to the International Space
Station. Columbus is currently scheduled for launch on Space Shuttle flight
STS-122 in December 2007.
The 4.5-metre diameter cylindrical module is equipped with
flexible research facilities that offer extensive science
capabilities. During its 10-year projected lifespan, Earth-based
researchers, together with the International Space Station crew,
will be able to conduct thousands of experiments in life sciences,
materials science, fluid physics and a whole host of other
disciplines, all in the weightlessness of orbit.
To keep costs low and reliability high, Columbus shares its basic
structure and life-support systems with the Italian Space Agency's
Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules (MPLM). But whereas the MPLM is
aptly described as a 'space moving van' - albeit a very
sophisticated moving van - the 75 cubic metres of space inside
Columbus contains an entire suite of science laboratories.
The Columbus laboratory has room for ten International Standard
Payload Racks (ISPRs), eight situated in the sidewalls, and two in
the ceiling area.
Each rack is the size of a telephone booth and able to host its
own autonomous and independent laboratory, complete with power and
cooling systems, and video and data links back to researchers on
ESA has developed a range of payload
racks, all tailored to squeeze the maximum amount of research from
the minimum of space and to offer European scientists across a
wide range of disciplines full access to a weightless environment
that cannot possibly be duplicated on Earth. The Biolab, for
example, supports experiments on micro-organisms, cells and tissue
cultures, and even small plants and small insects.
Another rack contains the European Physiology Modules Facility
(EPM), a set of experiments that will be used to investigate the
effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body. Experiment
results will also contribute to an increased understanding of
age-related bone loss, balance disorders and other ailments back
The Material Science Laboratory Electromagnetic Levitator (MSL-EML)
is a facility for the melting and solidification of conductive
metals, alloys or semi-conductors and a Fluid Science Laboratory (FSL)
will accommodate experiments in the strange behaviour of
weightless liquids. These too, could bring far-reaching benefits
on Earth: better ways to clean up oil spills, for example, and
even improved manufacture of optical lenses.
Outside its comfortable, pressurized
hull, Columbus has four mounting points for external payloads. Exposed to the
vacuum of space, and with an unhindered view of the Earth and outer space,
science packages can investigate anything from the ability of bacteria to
survive on an artificial meteorite to volcanic activity 400 km below on the
Columbus on the ground will involve researchers all over
Europe, who will be able to control their own experiments directly
from several User Centres or even directly from their workplaces.
Their efforts will be channelled through the Columbus Control
Centre in Germany, which will interface with the module itself and
also ESA's NASA partners in the United States.
Like the Genoese navigator for whom it was named, Columbus is
set for a long journey of exploration. But thanks to broadband
telecommunications, hundreds - perhaps thousands - of explorers
will be able to work aboard during its 10-year mission.
Total module length: 6 871 mm
Largest diameter: 4 477 mm
Total internal volume: 75 m3
Total volume of payload racks: 25 m3
Mass without payload: 10 275 kg
Launch mass: 12 775 kg (2500 kg payload)
Maximum payload mass: 9 000 kg (maximum)
Maximum on orbit mass: 21 000 kg