Human Activities in Space
In addition to the ISS and Chinese space station, a private U.S. company and Russia are planning on launching their own space stations. Both projects are still in the planning stages, utilizing technology and experience derived from their predecessors.
The first module of the ISS, the Russian Zarya module, was launched in late 1998 and the station became home to its first permanent crew in 2000. With the subsequent installation of major structural components and sections, the ISS reached its “core complete” configuration in 2011. New equipment, modules, and experimental platforms are regularly, a process expected to last until 2015.
China has a long-term and active project to develop a permanently crewed space station in LEO. The first phase of that project started in 2011 with the launch of an experimental space laboratory named Tiangong-1. The spacecraft, which is 10.4 meters (34.1 feet) long and weighs 8,500 kilograms (18,700 pounds), has 15 cubic meters (530 cubic feet) of habitable volume and is equipped with sleeping stations and exercise gear for visiting crews.
In addition to the ISS and Chinese efforts, there are other plans, of varying degrees of maturity, for other space stations. Bigelow Aerospace has been developing inflatable module technology that can be used for commercial space stations. Two prototype spacecraft, Genesis I and II, were launched in 2006 and 2007, respectively, to demonstrate the technology.
The ISS is the largest spacecraft currently in orbit, measuring 109 meters (358 feet) long, with a mass of almost 419,500 kilograms (925,000 pounds). The station was developed and is operated by an international partnership of NASA, Roscosmos, ESA, JAXA, and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
The ISS provides a unique platform for humans where long-term scientific research and experiments can occur. The ISS is a project involving the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and 11 ESA member states. It is a research facility in LEO that can host a permanent crew of up to six people in its current configuration.
China made great strides in 2011 toward developing its own modular space station, through the successful launch of the Tiangong-1 laboratory and rendezvous and docking with an unmanned Shenzhou-8 space vehicle. Two more Shenzhou missions are expected to dock with the module in 2012, with at least one of the missions carrying a crew.
In June 2009, Roscosmos informed the United States of its intention to develop an orbital research facility by the time the ISS is retired. This complex would be known as the Orbital Piloted Assembly and Experiment Complex (OPSEK). The Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module and Node Module are expected to dock with the ISS in 2012, but whenever the decommissioning of the ISS occurs, Roscosmos intends to detach those modules to use as the basis for OPSEK.