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Astronauts build Astrium platform outside the ISS


Bremen/Friedrichshafen.- Using robotic arms, US space shuttle astronauts have mounted a special platform onto the outside of the International Space Station (ISS). The platform is a sort of space toolbox and spare parts repository. The External Stowage Platform (ESP), or ‘Euro space pallet’, was developed in Bremen, Germany, by engineers from Astrium, Europe’s leading space company. Space biologists at Astrium’s Friedrichshafen site in southern Germany have also sent into space plants that will bloom in orbit.

The second external cargo platform was moved from the space shuttle Endeavour’s payload bay and successfully mounted onto the ISS during the station’s 50,000th orbit around Earth. For the first time, the manoeuvre was carried out by the robotic arms of the space shuttle and the ISS, eliminating the need for an elaborate and risky spacewalk. The ESP will be permanently attached to the outside of the space station for the next several years. The cargo platform allows the tools and spare parts that astronauts need to perform their work to be stored externally. Another version of the ESP has already been flown to the ISS on several occasions. Astrium’s ESP team, which is made up of personnel from Bremen and the United States, is also responsible for planning and executing this part of the mission.

“We are very proud that NASA is using our concept, and that we have contributed a service for the upkeep and development of the ISS,” said Dr Michael Menking, Senior Vice President Orbital and Reusable Systems at Astrium. “Operating the 3.5-tonne pallet with heavy cargo was exactly as our analysis predicted,” said Uwe Pape, ESP project manager at Astrium.

“The next project for an Astrium family cargo platform will be to bring two European-developed external payloads to the ISS. These external payloads will then be mounted in orbit to the outside of the Columbus Space Laboratory, which will be flown to the ISS aboard the same shuttle. The Columbus mission in December will be our highlight this year,” Dr Menking continued.

Europe holds a 10% share of the space station programme. Of European participants, Germany is the most involved with about 40%. On behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA), Astrium is acting as the main industrial contractor for the development, construction and operation of European ISS involvement. The Columbus Space Laboratory, a core European contribution to the ISS, was developed and built by Astrium in Bremen. At the moment, the lab is at Kennedy Space Center (Florida, USA), where it is being prepared for its upcoming flight to the ISS aboard space shuttle Atlantis scheduled for 6 December 2007.

Astrium is growing space plants – Space seeds to be planted on Earth in the future

Endeavour also transported the first fully automated plant container from the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS). This device has made it possible to cultivate plants throughout their lifecycle (seed-to-seed) in space, which will lead to the creation of space seeds. The seeds will be returned to Earth on a future shuttle flight. Some of the seeds will then be replanted and examined under ‘normal’ (terrestrial) conditions. These experiments aim to improve our understanding of the effects of weightlessness on plants, which will be particularly important for future long-term missions to the moon and to Mars. Initial results are expected at the beginning of 2008. At the end of this month, a team from Astrium in Friedrichshafen will travel to the User Support Centre in Norway to ensure that the experiment kicks off seamlessly. The 10-week experiment will then be monitored and supported from Friedrichshafen.


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