The European Space Agency (ESA) has assigned to Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) the management of a project to build two new nodes for the NASA-led International Space Station (ISS). ASI replaces Boeing, which is building the first ISS Node.

The Nodes 2 and 3, which connect modules of the ISS, will be built by Alenia Aerospazio, manufacturer of mini-pressurised logistics modules (MPLMs), under an ASI-NASA agreement. Alenia also assembles the pre-integration elements of ESA's Columbus pressurised laboratory, which is being built by prime contractor Daimler-Benz Aerospace (Dasa).

The nodes will be based on the design of the MPLMs and the Columbus. The Node 1, built by Boeing, is to be launched in July 1998 and will be attached to the Russian functional-cargo-block module (FGB), scheduled for lift-off in June 1998 on the first ISS assembly mission.

The nodes were originally to have been built by Boeing, which experienced problems in the manufacture of the Node 1. This had to be strengthened after pressure-testing difficulties.

Two MPLMs will be launched in June and November 1999, followed by the Node 2 in April 2001, and the Columbus in 2002. The Node 3 is scheduled for a launch after completion of the ISS, in about 2004.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has approved the design of the Columbus Orbital Facility (COF) and given the go-ahead for the start of the production phase of the programme. According to prime contractor Dasa, the first step will be the construction of an electrical laboratory model, to check the COF's systems and operational procedures. Work on this phase will begin in 1998.

The safety aspects of Dasa's Columbus design are being examined by NASA as the overall design authority for the ISS.

The COF is due to be launched on a NASA Space Shuttle at the end of October 2002, after which it will be attached to the Japanese ISS module. The 7m-long laboratory is due to be completed, equipped and tested between mid-2000 and the end of 2001.

Progress on other ISS items included the Boeing and Khrunichev announcement in Moscow on 15 December that manufacturing and testing of the FGB has been completed and that this first ISS component will be shipped to the Baikonur Cosmodrome for its launch in June.

The delay in the FGB and ISS programme enabled Boeing and Khrunichev to upgrade two of the Russian modules with three docking units. One of the new units will be able to accommodate the Russian Service Module, due to be launched in December 1998, or an US-built Interim Control Unit to be launched if the Service Module is delayed.

The other unit will enable the FGB to be refuelled directly by a Progress tanker rather than through the Service Module, as had been planned previously. An emergency Soyuz craft can also be docked. The third port will be used for the docking of the US Node 1 in July 1998.

Source: Flight International