International Space Station program

International Space Station program

The International Space Station program is tied together by a complex set of legal, political and financial agreements between the fifteen nations involved in the project, governing ownership of the various components, rights to crewing and utilisation, and responsibilities for crew rotation and station resupply. These agreements tie together the five space agencies and their respective International Space Station Programs and govern how they interact with each other on a daily basis to maintain station operations, from traffic control of spacecraft to and from the station, to utilization of space and crew time. In spring 2010, the International Space Station Program Managers from each of the five partner agencies were presented with Aviation Week's Laureate Award in the Space category,[1] and NASA's International Space Station Program was awarded the 2009 Collier Trophy.

International Space Station Program
A Commemorative Plaque honoring Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement signed on January 28, 1998.
A Commemorative Plaque honoring Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement signed on January 28, 1998.
International Space Station Program Managers[1]
Canadian Space Agency Pierre Jean
European Space Agency Bernardo Patti
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Yoshiyuki Hasegawa
Roscosmos Alexey Krasnov
NASA Michael Suffredini
edit] Legal aspects


The legal structure that regulates the space station is multi-layered. The primary layer establishing obligations and rights between the ISS partners is the Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA), an international treaty signed on January 28, 1998 by fifteen governments involved in the Space Station project. The ISS consists of Canada, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States, and eleven Member States of the European Space Agency (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom). Article 1 outlines its purpose:

This Agreement is a long term international co-operative framework on the basis of genuine partnership, for the detailed design, development, operation, and utilisation of a permanently inhabited civil Space Station for peaceful purposes, in accordance with international law.[2]

The IGA sets the stage for a second layer of agreements between the partners referred to as 'Memoranda of Understanding' (MOUs), of which four exist between NASA and each of the four other partners. There are no MOUs between ESA, Roskosmos, CSA and JAXA because NASA is the designated manager of the ISS. The MOUs are used to describe the roles and responsibilities of the partners in more detail.

A third layer consists of bartered contractual agreements or the trading of the partners' rights and duties, including the 2005 commercial framework agreement between NASA and Roskosmos that sets forth the terms and conditions under which NASA purchases seats on Soyuz crew transporters and cargo capacity on unmanned Progress transporters.

A fourth legal layer of agreements implements and supplements the four MOUs further. Notably among them is the ISS code of conduct, setting out criminal jurisdiction, anti-harassment and certain other behavior rules for ISS crewmembers.[3]


Allocation of ISS hardware between nations.

There is no fixed percentage of ownership for the whole space station. Rather, Article 5 of the IGA sets forth that each partner shall retain jurisdiction and control over the elements it registers and over personnel in or on the Space Station who are its nationals.[2] Therefore, for each ISS module only one partner retains sole ownership. Still, the agreements to use the space station facilities are more complex.

The three planned Russian segments Zvezda, the Multipurpose Laboratory Module and the Docking Cargo Modules are made and owned by Russia, which, as of today, also retains its current and prospective usage (Zarya, although constructed and launched by Russia, has been paid for and is officially owned by NASA). In order to use the Russian parts of the station, the partners use bilateral agreements (third and fourth layer of the above outlined legal structure). The rest of the station, (the U.S., the European and Japanese pressurized modules as well as the truss and solar panel structure and the two robotic arms) has been agreed to be utilized as follows (% refers to time that each structure may be used by each partner):

  • Columbus: 51% for ESA, 46.7% for NASA and 2.3% for CSA.[4]
  • Kibō: 51% for JAXA, 46.7% for NASA and 2.3% for CSA.[5]
  • Destiny: 97.7% for NASA and 2.3% for CSA.[6]
  • Crew time, electrical power and rights to purchase supporting services (such as data upload & download and communications) are divided 76.6% for NASA, 12.8% for JAXA, 8.3% for ESA, and 2.3% for CSA.[4][5][6]

Program operations


Long duration flights to the International Space Station are broken into expeditions. Expeditions have an average duration of half a year, and they commence following the official handover of the station from one Expedition commander to another. Expeditions 1 through 6 consisted of three person crews, but the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster led to a reduction to two crew members for Expeditions 7 to 12. Expedition 13 saw the restoration of the station crew to three. While only three crew members are permanently on the station, several expeditions, such as Expedition 16, have consisted of up to six astronauts or cosmonauts. Only 3 members were active at any given time, one of the 'seats' was rotated out during separate flights.[7][8]

STS-115 expanded of the living volume and capabilities of the station so that it could host a crew of six. Expedition 20 was the first ISS crew of this size. Expedition 20's crew was lifted to the station in two separate Soyuz-TMA flights launched at two different times (each Soyuz-TMA can hold only three people): Soyuz TMA-14 on 26 March 2009 and Soyuz TMA-15 on 27 May 2009. However, the station would not be permanently occupied by six crew members all year. For example, when the Expedition 20 crew (Roman Romanenko, Frank De Winne and Bob Thirsk) returned to Earth in November 2009, for a period of about two weeks only two crew members (Jeff Williams and Max Surayev) were aboard. This increased to five in early December, when Oleg Kotov, Timothy Creamer and Soichi Noguchi arrived on Soyuz TMA-17. It decreased to three when Williams and Surayev departed in March 2010, and finally returned to six in April 2010 with the arrival of Soyuz TMA-18, carrying Aleksandr Skvortsov, Mikhail Korniyenko and Tracy Caldwell Dyson.[7][8]

The International Space Station is the most-visited spacecraft in the history of space flight. As of 24 November 2009 (2009 -11-24), it had had 266 visitors (185 different people).[9] Mir had 137 visitors (104 different people).[10]

Visiting spacecraft

A space shuttle, with its payload bay full of equipment, seen orbiting over a cloudy sky above a mountainous region of the Earth.
The Space Shuttle Endeavour approaching the ISS during STS-118

Spacecraft from four different space agencies visit the ISS, serving a variety of purposes. The Automated Transfer Vehicle from the European Space Agency, the Russian Roskosmos Progress spacecraft and the H-II Transfer Vehicle from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have provided resupply services to the station. In addition, Russia supplies a Soyuz spacecraft used for crew rotation and emergency evacuation, which is replaced every six months. Finally, the US services the ISS through its Space Shuttle program, providing resupply missions, assembly and logistics flights, and crew rotation.

The availability of docking ports on the station, and traffic from four different agencies and launch sites must be coordinated. Spacecraft launches can see delays while waiting for traffic to clear [11] A particular tight traffic jam occurred during the latch of ESA's Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle in spring 2008. The cargo ship launched 2 day prior to STS-123, and had to wait in a holding orbit performing system tests while waiting for the shuttle to clear the station.[12]

As of 27 November 2009 (2009 -11-27), there have been 20 Soyuz, 35 Progress, 1 ATV, 1 HTV and 31 Space Shuttle flights to the station.[13] Expeditions require, on average, 2,722 kg of supplies, and as of 27 November 2009 (2009 -11-27), crews had consumed a total of around 19,000 meals.[13] Soyuz crew rotation flights and Progress resupply flights visit the station on average two and three times respectively each year,[14] with the ATV and HTV planned to visit annually from 2010 onwards.

As of 29 May 2010 (2010 -05-29), there were three spacecraft docked with the ISS:[14]

Spacecraft Mission Docking port Date docked Notes
Soyuz TMA-17 Expedition 22/Expedition 23 Zvezda aft 22 December 2009 16:48 UTC [15][16]
Soyuz TMA-18 Expedition 23/Expedition 24 Poisk 5 April 2010 05:24 UTC [15][17]
Progress M-05M ISS Progress 37 Pirs 1 May 2010 18:30 UTC [18]

Mission control centers

A world map highlighting the locations of space centers. See adjacent text for details.
Space centers involved with the ISS programme

The components of the ISS are operated and monitored by their respective space agencies at control centers across the globe, including:

Commercial Orbital Transportation Services

On January 18, 2006 NASA announced Commercial Orbital Transportation Services programme.[21] NASA has suggested that "Commercial services to ISS will be necessary through at least 2015."[22] Instead of flying payloads to ISS on government-operated vehicles, NASA would spend $500 million (less than the cost of a single Space Shuttle flight) through 2010 to finance the demonstration of orbital transportation services from commercial providers.

COTS must be distinguished from the related Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program. COTS relates to the development of the vehicles, CRS to the actual deliveries. COTS involves a number of Space Act Agreements, with NASA providing milestone-based payments.

On December 23, 2008, NASA entered into CRS contracts with Orbital Sciences and SpaceX to utilize their COTS cargo vehicles—Cygnus and Dragon, respectively—for cargo delivery to the International Space Station.

Constellation Program

Constellation Program, a human spaceflight program, was developed by NASA. On February 1, 2010, President Barack Obama announced a proposal to cancel the program effective with the U.S. 2011 fiscal year budget,[23][24][25][26] but later announced changes to the proposal in a major space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010, which including reviving the Orion capsule for use as a rescue spacecraft for ISS.

Future of the ISS

The heads of the ISS agencies from Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and the United States meet in Tokyo to review ISS cooperation.

Former NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin says the International Space Station has a role to play as NASA moves forward with a new focus for the manned space programme, which is to go out beyond Earth orbit for purposes of human exploration and scientific discovery. "The International Space Station is now a stepping stone on the way, rather than being the end of the line," Griffin said.[27] Griffin has said that station crews will not only continue to learn how to live and work in space, but also will learn how to build hardware that can survive and function for the years required to make the round-trip voyage from Earth to Mars.[27]

Despite this view, however, in an internal e-mail leaked to the press on 18 August 2008 from Griffin to NASA managers,[28][29][30] Griffin apparently communicated his belief that the current US administration had made no viable plan for US crews to participate in the ISS beyond 2011, and that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) were actually seeking its demise.[29] The e-mail appeared to suggest that Griffin believed the only reasonable solution was to extend the operation of the space shuttle beyond 2010, but noted that Executive Policy (i.e. the White House) was firm that there will be no extension of the space shuttle retirement date, and thus no US capability to launch crews into orbit until the Ares I/Orion system becomes operational in 2014, at the earliest.[29] He did not see purchase of Russian launches for NASA crews as politically viable following the 2008 South Ossetia war, and hoped the incoming Barack Obama administration would resolve the issue in 2009 by extending space shuttle operations beyond 2010.

A solicitation issued by NASA JSC indicates NASA's intent to purchase from Roscosmos "a minimum of 3 Soyuz seats up to a maximum of 24 seats beginning in the Spring of 2012" to provide ISS crew transportation.[31][32]

On 7 September 2008, NASA released a statement regarding the leaked email, in which Griffin said:

"The leaked internal email fails to provide the contextual framework for my remarks, and my support for the administration's policies. Administration policy is to retire the shuttle in 2010 and purchase crew transport from Russia until Ares and Orion are available. The administration continues to support our request for an INKSNA exemption. Administration policy continues to be that we will take no action to preclude continued operation of the International Space Station past 2016. I strongly support these administration policies, as do OSTP and OMB."
—Michael D. Griffin[33]

On 15 October 2008, President Bush signed the NASA Authorization Act of 2008, giving NASA funding for one additional mission to "deliver science experiments to the station".[34][35][36][37] The Act allows for an additional space shuttle flight, STS-134, to the ISS to install the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which was previously cancelled.[38]

President Barack Obama has supported the continued operation of the station, and supported the NASA Authorization Act of 2008.[38] Obama's plan for space exploration includes finishing the station and completion of the Orion spacecraft programme.[39]

New partners

China has reportedly expressed interest in the project, especially if it would be able to work with the RKA. However, as of 2009 China is not involved because of US objections.[40][41] The heads of both the South Korean and Indian space agencies announced at the first plenary session of the 2009 International Astronautical Congress on 12 October that their nations intend to join the ISS program. The talks are due to begin in 2010. The heads of agency also expressed support for extending ISS lifetime.[42] European countries not a part of the International Space Station program will be allowed access to the station in a three-year trial period, ESA officials say.[43]


The most cited figure of an estimate of overall costs of the ISS ranges from 35 billion to 100 billion USD.[44] ESA, the only agency actually stating potential overall costs on its website, estimates 100 billion.[45] Giving a precise cost estimate for the ISS is not straightforward, as it is difficult to determine which costs should actually be contributed to the ISS program, or how the Russian contribution should be measured.


NASA's current budget projections see an end to ISS funding in 2017, in order to free funds for the Vision for Space Exploration.

The overall majority of costs for NASA are incurred by flight operations and expenses for the overall management of the ISS. Costs for initially building the U.S. portion of the ISS modules and external structure on the ground and construction in space as well as crew and supply flights to the ISS do account for far less than the general operating costs (see annual budget allocation below).

NASA does not include the basic Space Shuttle program costs in the expenses incurred for the ISS program, despite the fact that the Space Shuttle has been nearly exclusively used for ISS construction and supply flights since December 1998.

NASA's 2007 budget request lists costs for the ISS (without Shuttle costs) as $25.6 billion for the years 1994 to 2005.[46] For each of 2005 and 2006 about $1.7 to 1.8 billion are allocated to the ISS program. The annual expenses will increase until 2010 when they will reach $2.3 billion and should then stay at the same level, however inflation-adjusted, until 2016, the defined end of the program. NASA has allocated between $300 and 500 million for program shutdown costs in 2017.

2005 ISS budget allocation

NASA allocates about 125 million US dollars (USD) annually to EVAs.

The $1.8 billion expensed in 2005 consisted of:[47]

  • Development of new hardware: $70 million were allocated to core development, for instance development of systems like navigation, data support or environmental.
  • Spacecraft Operations: $800 million consisting of $125 million for each of software, extravehicular activity systems, and logistics and maintenance. An additional $150 million is spent on flight, avionics and crew systems. The rest of $250 million goes to overall ISS management.
  • Launch and Mission operations: Although the Shuttle launch costs are not considered part of the ISS budget, mission and mission integration ($300 million), medical support ($25 million) and Shuttle launch site processing ($125 million) is within the ISS budget.
  • Operations Program Integration: $350 million was spent on maintaining and sustaining U.S. flight and ground hardware and software to ensure integrity of the ISS design and the continuous, safe operability.
  • ISS cargo/crew: $140 million was spent for purchase of supplies, cargo and crew capability for Progress and Soyuz flights.

Shuttle costs as part of ISS costs

The only non-ISS-related Shuttle flight between 2005 and 2011 was a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission on STS-125.

Only costs for mission and mission integration and launch site processing for the 33 ISS-related Shuttle flights are included in NASA's ISS program costs. Basic costs of the Shuttle program are, as mentioned above, not considered part of the overall ISS costs by NASA, because the Shuttle program is considered an independent program aside from the ISS. Since December 1998 the Shuttle has, however, been used nearly exclusively for ISS flights (since the first ISS flight in December 1998, until October 2007 only 5 flights out of 28 flights have not been to the ISS, and only the planned Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission in 2009 will not be ISS-related out of 13 planned missions until the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2010).


ESA calculates that its contribution over the 15 year lifetime of the project will be €9 billion.[48] Just the costs for the Columbus Laboratory tops more than €1.4 billion (about $2.1 billion), including the money spent on the ground control infrastructure known as Columbus Control Center to operate it. The total development costs for ATV amount to approximately €1.35 billion[49] and considering that each Ariane 5 launch costs around €150 million, each ATV launch will incur considerable costs as well.

The ISS has been far more expensive than originally anticipated. The ESA estimates the overall cost from the start of the project in the early 1990s to the prospective end in 2017 to be in the region of 100 billion ($157 billion or £65.3 billion).[45]


The development of the Japanese Experiment Module, JAXA's main contribution to the ISS, has cost about 325 billion yen (about $2.8 billion).[50] In the year 2005, JAXA allocated about 40 billion yen (about 350 million USD) to the ISS program.[51] The annual running costs for Japanese Experiment Module will total around $350 to 400 million. In addition JAXA has committed itself to develop and launch the H-II Transfer Vehicle, for which development costs total nearly $1 billion. In total, over the 24 year lifespan of the ISS program, JAXA will contribute well over $10 billion to the ISS program.


A considerable part of the Russian Space Agency's budget is used for the ISS. Since 1998 there have been over two dozen Soyuz and Progress flights, the primary crew and cargo transporters since 2003. The question of how much Russia spends on the station (measured in USD), is, however, not easy to answer. The two modules currently in orbit are derivatives of the Mir program and therefore development costs are much lower than for other modules. In addition, the exchange rate between ruble and USD is not adequately giving a real comparison to what the costs for Russia really are.[citation needed]


Canada, whose three main contributions to the ISS are the Canadarm2, the mobile base system, and Dextre (the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, also known as the Canada Hand), estimates that through the last 20 years it has contributed about C$1.4 billion to the ISS. Canada has continued to be a vital member of ISS through the past ten years and continues to play a major role in the ISS.[52]


The International Space Station has been the target of varied criticism over the years. Critics contend that the time and money spent on the ISS could be better spent on other projects—whether they be robotic spacecraft missions, space exploration, investigations of problems here on Earth, or just tax savings.[53] Some critics, like Robert L. Park, argue that very little scientific research was convincingly planned for the ISS in the first place.[54] They also argue that the primary feature of a space-based laboratory is its microgravity environment, which can usually be studied more cheaply with a "vomit comet".[55]

One of the most ambitious ISS projects to date, the Centrifuge Accommodations Module, has been cancelled due to the prohibitive costs NASA faces in simply completing the ISS. As a result, the research done on the ISS is generally limited to experiments which do not require any specialized apparatus. For example, in the first half of 2007, ISS research dealt primarily with human biological responses to being in space, covering topics like kidney stones, circadian rhythm, and the effects of cosmic rays on the nervous system.[56][57][58]

Other critics have attacked the ISS on some technical design grounds:

  1. Jeff Foust argued that the ISS requires too much maintenance, especially by risky, expensive EVAs.[59] The magazine The American Enterprise reports, for instance, that ISS astronauts "now spend 85 percent of their time on construction and maintenance" alone.
  2. The Astronomical Society of the Pacific has mentioned that its orbit is rather highly inclined, which makes Russian launches cheaper, but US launches more expensive.[60] This was intended as a design point, to encourage Russian involvement with the ISS—and Russian involvement saved the project from abandonment in the wake of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster—but the choice may have increased the costs of completing the ISS substantially.

In response to some of these criticisms, advocates of manned space exploration say that criticism of the ISS project is short-sighted, and that manned space research and exploration have produced billions of dollars' worth of tangible benefits to people on Earth. Jerome Schnee estimated that the indirect economic return from spin-offs of human space exploration has been many times the initial public investment.[61] A review of the claims by the Federation of American Scientists argued that NASA's rate of return from spin-offs is actually "astoundingly bad", except for aeronautics work that has led to aircraft sales.[62]

Critics also say that NASA is often casually credited with "spin-offs" (such as Velcro and portable computers) that were developed independently for other reasons.[63] NASA maintains a list of spin-offs from the construction of the ISS, as well as from work performed on the ISS.[64][65] However, NASA's official list is much narrower and more arcane than dramatic narratives of billions of dollars of spin-offs.

It is therefore debatable whether the ISS, as distinct from the wider space program, will be a major contributor to society. Some advocates argue that apart from its scientific value, it is an important example of international cooperation.[66] Others claim that the ISS is an asset that, if properly leveraged, could allow more economical manned Lunar and Mars missions.[67] Either way, advocates argue that it misses the point to expect a hard financial return from the ISS; rather, it is intended as part of a general expansion of spaceflight capabilities.

End of Mission

In 2009, NASA had stated plans to end the ISS programme and deorbit the ISS in early 2016.[68] This was in accordance with the then-President Bush's policy. President Obama announced new policy in 2010, extending the program through 2020.[69]

All five ISS-participating space agencies had indicated in 2010 their desire to see the platform continue flying beyond 2015, but Europe struggled to agree on funding arrangements within its member states, until agreement was reached in March 2011.[70][71][72] Russia and ISS partners in a 2011 statement said that work is being done to make sure other modules can be used beyond 2015. The first Russian module was launched in 1998, and the 30th anniversary of that module's launch has been chosen as a target date for certification of all components of the ISS.[70]

According to a 2009 report, RKK Energia is considering methods to remove from the station some modules of the Russian Orbital Segment when the end of mission is reached and use them as a basis for a new station, known as the Orbital Piloted Assembly and Experiment Complex (OPSEK). The modules under consideration for removal from the current ISS include the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), currently scheduled to be launched in may 2012, with other Russian modules which are currently planned to be attached to the MLM until 2015. Neither the MLM nor any additional modules attached to it would have reached the end of their useful lives in 2016 or 2020. The report presents a statement from an unnamed Russian engineer who believes that, based on the experience from Mir, a thirty-year life should be possible, except for micrometeorite damage, because the Russian modules have been built with on-orbit refurbishment in mind.[73]

According to the Outer Space Treaty the United States is legally responsible for all modules it has launched.[74] In ISS planning, NASA examined options including returning the station to Earth via shuttle missions (deemed too expensive, as the station(USOS) is not designed for disassembly and this would require at least 27 shuttle missions[75]), natural orbital decay with random reentry similar to Skylab, boosting the station to a higher altitude (which would simply delay reentry) and a controlled targeted de-orbit to a remote ocean area.[76]

The technical feasibility of a controlled targeted deorbit into a remote ocean was found to be possible only with Russia's assistance.[76] At the time ISS was launched, the Russian Space Agency had experience from de-orbiting the Salyut 4, 5, 6, and 7 space stations, while NASA's first intentional controlled de-orbit of a satellite (the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory) would not occur for another two years.[77] NASA currently has no spacecraft capable of de-orbiting the ISS at the time of decommissioning.[78] Skylab, the only space station built and launched entirely by the US, decayed from orbit slowly over 5 years, and no attempt was made to de-orbit the station using a deorbital burn. Remains of Skylab hit populated areas of Esperance, Western Australia.[79] without injuries or loss of life.

While the entire USOS cannot be reused and will be discarded, some Russian modules will be reused. Nauka, the Node module, two science power platforms and Rassvet, launched between 2010 and 2015 and joined to the ROS will be separated to form the next Russian space station OPSEK.[80]


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