Spaceflight Now: Space Station

Future of international space station riding on Zvezda

Posted: July 7, 2000

The Zvezda service module under construction. Photo: NASA
The Russian command module Zvezda, a 44,000-pound (20,000-kilogram) spacecraft that will provide crew quarters, propulsion and flight control for the international space station, is finally poised for liftoff on a make-or-break mission.

Running more than two years behind schedule because of Russian funding problems and, more recently, trouble with Russia's workhorse Proton rocket, Zvezda is scheduled for launch July 12 at 4:56:28 GMT (12:56:28 a.m. EDT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan.

If all goes well, Zvezda and the international space station, made up of the U.S. Unity node and a Russian-built NASA-funded propulsion module called Zarya, will dock July 26 while the spacecraft are flying above Russian ground stations.

With Zvezda in place, station assembly will finally take off with a steady stream of U.S. and Russian flights. A Progress supply ship is scheduled to dock around Aug. 2 and a crew aboard the shuttle Atlantis will pay a visit in September to activate critical systems.

Stabilizing gyroscopes and a major truss element are scheduled for delivery in October and the first full-time crew - commander William Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev - should arrive aboard a Soyuz ferry craft in early November. From that point on, the outpost will be permanently staffed with international crews.

If all goes well, that is.

If Zvezda (pronounced za-VEZ'-dah) fails to reach orbit or is unable to dock with the space station for some reason, the future of the $100 billion project would be in jeopardy. At the very least, Russian participation would be in doubt.

"This is one of the single most important launches in the history of the space age to date," said John Pike, a space policy analyst with the Federation of American Scientists.

Solar arrays
An artist's concept of Zvezda's two solar arrays being deployed shortly after launch. Photo: NASA
In a very real sense, he told Spaceflight Now, "the future of human presence in space is riding on this."

With a working space station in orbit, NASA could possibly absorb a catastrophic shuttle failure down the road, which most insiders believe is inevitable sooner or later. But without a permanently manned station, which requires the Zvezda module in its initial stages, a shuttle failure could kill the manned space program outright.

"They're always betting the program every time they launch," Pike said of the shuttle. "If I've got a space station, I can explain how we get back in the saddle. If I've got no space station to fly to, it becomes rather more difficult to explain what the program is after the next shuttle accident."

But NASA managers and their Russian counterparts are optimistic about the prospects of successfully launching Zvezda to open a new era in space station construction.

"I look forward with great anticipation to the service module launch," said Kirk Shireman, the NASA manager who oversees Russian components. "We've put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the manufacture of this vehicle."

Said Yuri Malenchenko, a Russian cosmonaut who will visit the station in September aboard shuttle Atlantis: "This is going to be a new station of a new type and I'm waiting with impatience for the time when I'm going to step on the international space station."

Live coverage
Spaceflight Now will provide a running commentary during the countdown and launch of Zvezda in our Mission Status Center. We will also offer a live QuickTime streaming video broadcast.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Proton
Payload: Zvezda
Launch date: July 12, 2000
Launch time: 0456 GMT (12:56 a.m. EDT)
Launch site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan

Pre-launch briefing
Marvel of complexity - Overview of the Russian-made Zvezda service module.

Sky high stakes - A look at the contingency plans if things go wrong with Zvezda's launch.

A rocky road to launch - Zvezda and the international space station have been delayed many times.

Proton vehicle data - Overview of the Russian rocket that will launch Zvezda into space.

Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of events to occur during the launch.

Two weeks to docking - Description of events leading up to Zvezda's docking to station.

Shuttle to outfit station - A look ahead to September's mission of space shuttle Atlantis.

Video vault
NASA animation shows the Zvezda module launching into space, deploying antennas and solar arrays and conducting orbit raising maneuvers.
  PLAY (593k, 1min 05sec QuickTime file)
The Zvezda service module joins the infant International Space Station as seen in NASA animation of the docking with Zarya.
  PLAY (670k, 1min 12sec QuickTime file)
One of Zvezda's power-generating solar arrays is unfurled in a factory test as the module is constructed.
  PLAY (265k, 29sec QuickTime file)
Take a look around inside the Zvezda service module that will be initial crew living quarters aboard the International Space Station.
  PLAY (406k, 45sec QuickTime file)
Russian technicians move the Proton rocket's nose cone around Zvezda in the factory to ensure to two will fit together properly.
  PLAY (185k, 20sec QuickTime file)
Download QuickTime 4 software to view this file.