The International Space Station—still not technically complete—may only be in orbit for another decade or so.
Photo Credit: NASA

What’s Going to Happen to the ISS?

By David Darling

The International Space Station is the ninth crewed space station to be built, and with a mass of approximately 450 tons, a width of 354 feet (108 meters), and a pressurized volume of 2746 (837 cubic meters), it is by far the biggest. Construction on the orbiting laboratory started in 1998 and is still ongoing (Russian elements are still being readied for launch).

With the retirement of the space shuttle fleet, the only way at present to transport astronauts to and from the station is via Soyuz spacecraft. This minuscule vessel only allows three crew members to be launched at any one time. However, by the mid-2010s, the U.S. could regain an independent capability to launch crews into low-Earth orbit using commercial vehicles such as SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.

Only two more pressurized modules are scheduled to be launched and attached to the existing complex. The Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), also called Nauku (Russian for “science”), will become the major Russian laboratory at the ISS. Due to arrive in 2014, along with the European Robotic Arm, it will replace the Mini-Research Module 2 (MRM 2). The other addition, also slated for arrival in 2014, is the Uzlovoy Module (UM). This four-ton, ball-shaped component will support the docking of two scientific and power modules during the final stage of the station assembly. It will also furnish the Russian segment of the ISS with extra docking ports to receive Soyuz TMA (crew-carrying) and Progress M (cargo-carrying) spacecraft.

Read more: What’s Going to Happen to the ISS? « AmericaSpace.

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