International Space Station: Beehive of man’s activities in space, by Professor MK Othman



I am still talking about space technology at the risk of boring my readers. To my thinking, space technology is one of the most amazing wonders of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Satellite, a man-made structure hanging in space between 150 and 35,000 kilometers above the earth’s surface rotating around the earth while receiving and sending signals with amazing outcomes.

These outcomes are so impactful to humanity positively thereby making lives comfortable and enjoyable. Imagine life today without GSM and Internet services.

The space technology is attempting to unravel the wonders of nature, the omnipotent perfect creation of the universe and the mysteries surrounding the space and its contents.

As stated in my previous articles, there are classifications of satellites; Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites with a range of distance between 160 to 2,000km from the earth surface, Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites with a distance between 2,000 and 35,000Km and Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellites with a distance over 35,000 km from the earth surface. Among these satellites, the biggest and busiest and long-lasting one is the International Space Station (ISS).

The International Space Station (ISS) is the largest man-made structure ever put into space since 1998. ISS was so large that it couldn’t be launched in its entirety at once.


It was therefore sent in space in pieces and then constructed while in orbit. The first ISS component was launched in 1998, with the first long-term residents arriving on 2nd November 2000.

Since then, the station has been continuously occupied by people up to date, which is about 22 years today. The weight of ISS is 450,000kg with a size of 108.51 meters by 73.15 meters, which is approximately equivalent to a football field.

The ISS program is a joint project between five participating space agencies: NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada).

The ownership and use of the space station are established by intergovernmental treaties and agreements. What are these five participating agencies?

NASA is an acronym of National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.

NASA was established in 1958 as an agency with distinct civilian orientation for peaceful scientific applications in space science and technology. Since its establishment, most US space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo Moon landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle.

The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program, which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for un-crewed NASA launches. Since establishment, NASA is assiduously working to achieve her vision of discovering and expanding knowledge for the benefit of humanity.

The second is “Roscosmos”, a State Corporation for Space Activities, which was originally part of a Russian Federal Space Agency. It was saddled with responsibilities for a wide range and types of space flights and cosmonautics programs for the Russian Federation.

The corporation evolved over the years and consolidated itself and became “the national state corporation” on 28 December 2015 through a presidential decree.

The third is “JAXA” (Japan), which is an acronym of “National Research and Development Agency on Aerospace Research and Development”.

It is the Japanese national aerospace and space agency. JAXA was formed on 1st October 2003 through the merger of three previously independent organizations; Japan’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), the National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan (NAL), and National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA).

JAXA is responsible for research, technology development and launch of satellites into orbit. It is also involved in many more advanced missions such as asteroid exploration and possible human exploration of the Moon. Its motto or corporate slogan is “Explore to Realize”, which was made from the previous slogan “Reaching for the skies, exploring space”.

ESA is an acronym of the European Space Agency. ESA is an intergovernmental organization of 22 member states of the European Union, dedicated to the exploration of space.

The agency was established in 1975 with the head office located in Paris, France. ESA has a worldwide staff of about 2,200 two years ago (2018) and had an annual budget of about €5.72 billion (~$6.43 billion) in 2019.

ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight (mainly through participation in the International Space Station program); the launch and operation of un-crewed exploration missions to other planets and the Moon; Earth observation, science, and telecommunication; designing launch vehicles; and maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana.

The main European launch vehicle Ariane 5 is operated through Arianespace with ESA sharing in the costs of launching and further developing this launch vehicle. The agency is also working with NASA to manufacture the Orion Spacecraft service module, that will fly on the Space Launch System.

Lastly, CSA (Canada) is an acronym of the Canadian Space Agency, which is the national space agency of Canada. It was established by the Canadian Space Agency Act which received Royal Assent on May 10, 1990.

The agency reports to the federal Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development. The agency has headquarters located at the John H. Chapman Space Centre in Longueuil, Quebec.

It also has offices in Ottawa, Ontario, at the David Florida Laboratory, and small liaison offices in Houston, Washington, D.C., and Paris. Canada has a famous history of being among the few countries that started space research immediately after World II.

In September 1962, Canada became the third country after the USA and USSR to put an artificial satellite into space when it launched “Alouette 1” that studied the ionosphere. Alouette 1 was part of a joint U.S.- Canadian scientific program.

Its purpose was to investigate the properties of the top of the ionosphere, and the dependence of those properties on geographical location, season, and time of day. In 1972, Canada became the first country in the world to establish its own domestic geostationary communication satellite network after launching Anik A-1 into space.

Since 1998, these five countries have been harmoniously working complementing each other to make the success of International Space Station (ISS) to what it is today.

The result of this success is advancing space technology to a greater height in the last two decades. ISS is used in several areas of space research to study planetary, cosmic bodies and solar systems.

With estimated cost well exceeding $100 billion since the program started, ISS is the most expensive man-made object ever built-in space.

The ISS is a low Earth orbit satellite maintaining an orbit at an average altitude of 400 kilometers above the earth’s surface. ISS moves with a speed of 28,800 kilometres per hour thereby circling the Earth in roughly 92 minutes and completes 15.5 orbits per day.

This ultra-hypersonic speed makes the ISS weightless while circling the Earth. Thus, astronauts working and living on the Station experience 16 sunrises and sunsets each day of 24 hours. This means that the people, mostly astronauts working in ISS experience night and day each one-and-half hour time making our 24-hour day equivalent to 16 days over there.

Specifically, ISS serves as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory in which crew members conduct experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and other fields.

The station is suited for the testing of spacecraft systems and equipment required for missions to the Moon and Mars. There are several activities by different people visiting and staying in ISS.

It is the ninth space station to be inhabited by crews, following the Soviet and later Russian Salyut, Almaz, and Mir stations as well as Skylab from the US.

The station is serviced by a variety of visiting spacecraft: the Russian Soyuz and Progress, the US Dragon and Cygnus, the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle, and formerly the European Automated Transfer Vehicle. What are the successes achieved in ISS and prospects as a move towards 2030, the target year of the satellite?

To be continued next week.

Professor Othman is the Executive Director of the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.


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