Tim Furniss/LONDON

The Russian International Space Station (ISS) control module Zarya completed its fifth and final planned orbital correction burn on 23 November, placing it in a 396 x 85km, 51°-inclination orbit. The module was launched successfully aboard a Proton booster from Baikonur on 20 November.

The NASA Space Shuttle STS88/Endeavour, with the Node 1 Unity connecting module, is scheduled to be launched from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida, on 3 December to perform the first ISS assembly mission. Astronauts from the Endeavour will join the Unity with the Zarya.

Meanwhile, the third unit, the US Laboratory Module for the space station, has arrived at the KSC in preparation for launch in February 2000. The module is, however, far from complete, with considerable work still required on it in the Space Station Processing Facility at the KSC.

The Lab Module, considered to be the centrepiece of the ISS, has suffered a series of production problems at prime contractor Boeing, which, if the original ISS assembly schedule had been adhered to, would have delayed the project,a fact that has been overshadowed by the difficulties which have beset the Russians.

A UK astronaut could fly to the ISS as part of NASA's international mission specialist corps if London can interest NASA in technology that can be used on the station. One of the technologies of most interest to NASA as part of a bilateral agreement with the UK would be ion thrusters for orbital adjustment and attitude control. It is unlikely that a UK astronaut would join the European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut corps, however, because the UK does not yet contribute funds to the ESA manned space programme.

Source: Flight International