ESA said Monday that technicians in Bremen, Germany, have completed final integration of the Columbus laboratory for the International Space Station. The facility will be shipped to Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at the end of next month to prepare for its launch in late 2007 aboard one of NASA's space shuttles.
During its planned 10-year operational lifetime, scientific researchers in Europe - with help from astronauts on board the ISS and a Europe-wide support infrastructure on the ground ?is designed to conduct a experiments in life and physical sciences, materials science, fundamental physics and technology research.
The Columbus module represents ESA's single largest contribution to the ISS. The 4.5-meter cylindrical module shares its basic structure and life-support systems with the Italian Space Agency's Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules, but it contains room for 10 International Standard Payload Racks, each hosting an entire laboratory in miniature, with power and cooling systems, and video and data links to researchers back on Earth.
ESA is developing a range of payload racks, such as the Biolab, which will support experiments on micro-organisms, cell and tissue culture, and even small plants and animals.
Another rack will contain the European Physiology Modules, a set of experiments examining how the human body behaves in microgravity, with the goal of exploring better treatments for age-related bone loss and other ailments on Earth.
The Material Science Laboratory will investigate solidification physics, notably zero-gravity crystallization, and a Fluid Science Laboratory will accommodate experiments in the behavior of weightless liquids. These efforts could yield better ways to clean up oil spills, or improved optical lenses.
Columbus will also feature four mounting points for external payloads that can conduct experiments in the vacuum of space.
Meanwhile, mission science on the ground will involve researchers all over Europe, who will be able to control their own experiments directly from several User Centers or directly from their workplaces. Their efforts will be channeled through the Columbus Control Centre in Germany, which will interface with the module itself and also ESA's NASA partners in the United States.
On May 2, Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA's director general, and Evert Dudok, EADS SPACE Transportation president ?along with industry, research, space agency and government leaders involved in the program ?will participate in a ceremony celebrating the completion of Columbus. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also will be attending, ESA said in a statement.