Spaceflight Now: Space Station/STS-98

Space station's destiny rides on laboratory attachment

Posted: February 4, 2001

The mission patch for STS-98 -- Atlantis' voyage to deliver the Destiny module to the international space station. Photo: NASA
The shuttle Atlantis is set for launch Wednesday on a critical mission to deliver the $1.38 billion U.S. laboratory module, Destiny, to the international space station, finally clearing the way for the start of orbital research later this year.

Atlantis' crew - commander Kenneth Cockrell, pilot Mark Polansky, flight engineer Marsha Ivins and spacewalkers Thomas Jones and Robert Curbeam - flew to the Kennedy Space Center on Sunday for the start of the countdown to launch on the 102nd shuttle mission.

If all goes well, Atlantis will blast off from pad 39A at 6:11 p.m. EST (2311 GMT) Wednesday, Feb. 7, at the precise moment Earth's rotation carries the launch pad into the plane of the international space station's orbit.

Assuming an on-time liftoff, Cockrell will guide Atlantis to a docking with the space station around noon EST on Feb. 9.

Awaiting their arrival will be station commander William Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev, launched Oct. 31 aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and now working through their fourth month in space.

The long-awaited and oft-delayed Destiny module will be attached to the station the day after docking during the first of three planned spacewalks by Jones and Curbeam.

Desinty rides an overhead crane inside the Kennedy Space Center's Space Station Processing Facility. Photo: NASA
The 32,000-pound Boeing-built lab module, the scientific heart of the international space station, was designed to serve as a world-class orbital research facility, allowing scientists to carry out long-term experiments in the microgravity environment of space.

It also will serve as the "bridge" of the space station, providing the central computers and communications gear necessary to monitor and control critical systems throughout the complex.

"The lab is really the guts of the space station's research and command and control capabilities," Jones said in a NASA interview. "It becomes possible to do science and to make the science quality science because of the arrival of the lab."

He said the massive laboratory represents "a quantum jump for the space station's maturity as a research facility."

"We're really getting into the serious growth phase of the space station," he said. "And we can leapfrog from the lab to doing some really valuable work there."

More poetically, perhaps, veteran shuttle commander Robert Cabana, a senior space station manager, said the lab "fulfills the destiny of the space station."

"It's going to be what gives us hopefully those breakthroughs we're looking for in the future, a real place to do science and a world-class microgravity lab," Cabana said. "It's going to be something."

Destiny packed inside Atlantis' payload bay at the launch pad. Photo: NASA
Measuring 24 feet long and 14 feet wide, the Destiny module is the most complex space station component, U.S. or Russian, ever built. And at $1.4 billion, it is certainly the most expensive."

The lab can accommodate 12 removable refrigerator-size racks for high-tech experiment hardware and another dozen system racks housing computers, environmental control systems and communications equipment.

It also features a large Earth-facing window in an open rack bay made with optically pure, telescope-quality glass.

Along with serving as the station's main research center, computers in the Destiny module will be used to monitor and control all aspects of station operation, including a quartet of massive stabilizing gyroscopes attached to the station last year.

By changing the spin rate of the gyros, the lab computers can change the orientation of the entire space station as required by the research agenda and the arrival and departure of space shuttles, Soyuz crew ferry ships or unmanned Progress supply craft.

By using the gyros to control the station's orientation, NASA and its Russian partners can avoid experiment-jarring rocket firings that burn up precious on-board supplies of rocket fuel.

"For command and control, right now we're in sort of a crude mode where we use thruster control to maintain attitude on the space station and that's a very fuel-intensive activity," Jones said in the NASA interview.

"We want to get the gyros that went up there on (assembly flight) 3A to control the station's attitude, and the software and commanding, the computers that make that possible, are all in the laboratory. So, that enables a more fuel-efficient mode of operation.

"And the control moment gyros are much less disturbing to a microgravity environment than thruster firings are," he added. "So, that makes a good quality research environment available on the station."

Up until this point, orientation, or attitude, control has been provided by thrusters on the Russian Zarya and Zvezda modules. Likewise, the station's primary communications - telemetry and voice circuits - have been routed through Russian ground sites and control centers.

As such, the Russian mission control center near Moscow - MCC-M in NASA-speak - has been designated the station's "lead" flight center.

But with arrival of the Destiny module, activation of the station's NASA-supplied control moment gyros and two high-data-rate S-band radio links that will operate through U.S. communications satellites, NASA's mission control center at the Johnson Space Center in Houston will formally become the station's lead center.

An artist's concept of the space station after Atlantis' mission shows Destiny attached to the orbiting complex. Photo: NASA

Russian flight controllers will continue to monitor and control operations in the Russian segment of the station, handling Russian-language communications and orchestrating arrivals and departures of Progress and Soyuz spacecraft carrying cosmonauts and, in at least one case, presumably a private citizen.

But with Destiny's arrival and activation during Atlantis' mission, flight controllers in Houston - MCC-H - will finally be in charge, in a formal sense at least, of the $60 billion space station complex.

"After (station assembly flight) 5A, control shifts primarily from MCC-Moscow to MCC-Houston," Cabana said. "We're working with the Russian control team, our control folks, to lay out the criteria for that shift and the process by which it happens.

"That doesn't mean the Russians won't have control of their vehicle," he added. "They'll still be talking to the crew in Russian and exercising the authority and control that they need to ensure their systems are up and operating."

Cabana said both sides are working to ensure an orderly handover, but "I'm sure it's not going to be without some growing pains."

Shuttle program manager Tommy Holloway downplayed the significance of the changing roles of the two control centers.

"This is a joint operation," he insisted. "And when we talk about who's in control we really mean is who is the leader of the band and who is providing the overall integration and overall planning. And indeed, each side is in control and in charge of their particular part of the operation."


Mission preview
Station's destiny rides on laboratory attachment
Orbital rendezvous more art than science
Lab installation a complex ballet for man and machine
The moment of truth: Destiny comes to life
Two more spacewalks, more lab outfitting on tap
A final visit before undocking and journey home

Video vault
Take a flying tour around the international space station as it looks before Atlantis' visit and after when the Destiny laboratory is added.
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NASA animation shows space shuttle Atlantis' approach and docking to the international space station. Lead Flight Director Bob Castle narrates.
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Animation shows the PMA No. 2 docking port being removed from the station's Unity node by Atlantis' robot arm and temporarily stored on the Z1 truss.
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The Destiny lab module is lifted out of Atlantis' payload bay by the robot arm, flipped 180 degrees end-over-end, and connected to the station as shown in animation.
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Kerri Knotts, the STS-98 lead EVA officer, provides a detailed preview of the work to be performed during the mission's first spacewalk with complete animation.
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After temporary storage on the Z1 truss, PMA No. 2 is mounted to the Destiny module's back end for use by docking space shuttles in the future.
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Watch a complete preview of the mission's second spacewalk with NASA animation and narration by Kerri Knotts, the STS-98 lead EVA officer.
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NASA animation gives a full preview of the mission's third spacewalk along with narration by Kerri Knotts, the STS-98 lead EVA officer.
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Atlantis undocks from the international space station and performs a one-lap "fly-around" maneuver as shown in NASA animation.
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Status Summary

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