November 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 7 
Integrated Defense Systems

A place in space

A place in space

Boeing celebrates five years of continuous human presence on ISS


Imagine living in one of the most inhospitable environments in the world for the past five years while also constructing your home, having a full-time job and conducting science experiments. Then you can fully appreciate the accomplishment of NASA and its Boeing industry team in keeping the International Space Station running smoothly with a continuous human presence since Nov. 2, 2000.

ISS crews have maintained the program's goals and objectives even in the aftermath of the Space Shuttle Columbia accident in February 2003. That event curtailed assembly and limited ISS logistics resupply to Russian Progress cargo shipments until the Shuttle returned to flight in July. The next Space Shuttle logistics mission will occur no earlier than May 2006.

Boeing is the prime contractor for the ISS. And with most of the station hardware now built, the company has shifted its focus to resuming assembly missions while sustaining and operating the station. Boeing and its suppliers have worked equally hard to keep station hardware at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., in good shape while in storage for this extended period.

"The focus of the first 2 1/2 years was on continued assembly of the station; the last 2 1/2, it has been a challenge to keep the station crewed and the consumables supplied," said John Elbon, Boeing vice president and program manager of the ISS program.

Under the U.S. government's Vision for Space Exploration, NASA will complete the ISS and use it as a test bed for long missions in space, work that will enable the United States to send humans to the moon, Mars and beyond. The ability to be flexible and to work with the international partners has been crucial to the station's success, Elbon said. It also has taught Boeing and NASA key lessons that can be applied to exploration, like the importance of planning ahead for logistics and consumables such as water, oxygen and food.

"The philosophy on station was that when a box [a replaceable system] fails, we bring it back to Earth, repair it and take up a new one. Without the shuttle, we have not been able to do that. So performing maintenance onboard the station has been important and will remain so for future exploration," he said.


The hardware on orbit has been performing well for the astronauts over the past five years: The average time between equipment breakdowns on station is 50 percent better than predicted. "We have been able to operate with a crew of two instead of three. It is incredible that we've had crews up there for five years and not had any significant problems," Elbon said.

Looking toward the NASA milestone of 2010 after which the shuttle will be retired, Elbon said the team is "anxious to get started with future assembly flights." NASA is expected to release an assembly sequence that relies on 18 more shuttle flights to complete assembly of the ISS.  NASA is currently holding high-level discussions of the proposed assembly sequence with its international partners.

The ISS is the only vehicle ever built on-orbit that was not integrated on the ground as one unit before it was launched. "Imagine building a 787 and putting it together in space for the first time where all the pieces have never been together before," Elbon said.

The station increases its crew size to three with the next shuttle mission and eventually will increase to six crew members. One of the requirements of NASA's Crew Exploration Vehicle when it begins flying in 2012 will be to service the station. The CEV will be initially capable of flying three astronauts plus cargo and remaining docked to the station for extended periods.

"When completed, the ISS will start to do the research it was intended to do," Elbon said. "My big hope is that we make some great breakthroughs in research someday. We are going to learn a lot about what it is going to take to go back to the moon and on to Mars. We are going to continue to learn how to work well with our international partners. We are also developing the skills in our work force that we need to make the Vision for Space Exploration a reality."


Ideas for an upgraded ISS

Ideas for an upgraded ISS

Boeing is working closely with its suppliers and NASA to enhance capabilities of the International Space Station. The focus is on developing new technologies and ideas for the station as a test bed for exploration. Here's a sample of some of the work being done.

New lights

Light Emitting Diode technologies used in traffic lights or car taillights are much like the new lights that will end up in the ISS someday, except they will be built to work in space—a first use for this type of technology. Solid-state LED lights use less energy, create less heat, weigh less and have a design life of more than 50,000 hours—more than five times greater than the fluorescent lights currently used at the station. The station currently has 24 fluorescent assemblies, and the current plan is to replace six of those lights in the Boeing-built Destiny laboratory.

NASA is currently evaluating the plan, and work is expected to begin in late 2006. Boeing will be responsible for integrating the LEDs into the station. "These technologies will be tested on station first and will serve as one of the technologies employed on future exploration vehicles because of their long life," said Rusty Robetorye, Boeing ISS electrical power system design, analysis and integration manager.

Regenerative Environmental Control Life System (ECLS)

The ISS has an oxygen generator that can take water and decompose it into hydrogen and oxygen, providing oxygen for the crew. New U.S. regenerative ECLS equipment, including an oxygen generator, is designed as backup to the current Russian Elektron system and will be installed in Destiny, the U.S. laboratory.

Another new feature of the regenerative ECLS will be urine and water processors. They can reclaim water from sources such as humidity from the air conditioning system, waste water and urine, and purify it for use by the oxygen generation system. "Every gallon of water we recover from this system is one less that we have to bring up," said John Elbon, Boeing vice president and program manager of the International Space Station. "We've had systems like this operating on the ground, but it is a lot different when you operate in space."

Augmented Reality for Space Exploration Operations

With space operations, you have the challenge of only a few people operating a complex system for an extended period with no resupply. It is impossible to train the crew for every possible repair task on everything that potentially could go wrong. That's where augmented reality is designed to help. The advantage of augmented reality is that it uses real video scenes—"augmented" real time with instructions. The Space Station can be an excellent test bed for demonstrating this technology. Boeing NASA Systems and Phantom Works are developing a concept demonstrator that includes headsets equipped with tiny head-up displays to allow astronauts to perform a repair using spatially referenced text instructions.

—Ed Memi


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