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How Does a Space Station Works?

Jagatheesh is a Mechanical Engineer and interested in writing on science and technology in our life.

The International Space Station is the complex assembly of various modules in space

The International Space Station is the complex assembly of various modules in space

Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, the new age astronauts, completed their trip to space successfully. They created a new beginning in space travel. But this short space trip is made possible by hundreds of researches made in space with the help of space stations. So what is a space station, and how it works?

Well, the answer is straightforward. Space stations are just a lab in the sky used for conducting various experiments related to space. It works on the principle of orbital velocity. Orbital velocity is the speed at which an object must travel to balance its inertia and the gravity of a larger body like planet earth.

The moon revolves around the earth for thousands of years by maintaining orbital velocity. It is a natural law that is used for artificial satellites and space stations. This article will solve the mysteries of space stations and the science associated with them.

The tale of space stations

The first-ever mention of a space station was a fiction novella called The Brick moon, published in the second half of the 19th century. Over time, various scientific concepts have been proposed. In 1951 Dr.Wernher Von Braun published the rotating wheel space station similar to the one depicted in The Martian movie.

It was the Soviet Union that first launched a monolithic space station called Salyut-1 in 1971. Later scientific advancements made the assembly of various modules in space to form a complex structure. Various space agencies across the world are trying to build their own space station.

International Space Station, the only operational space station, was a collaboration of various nations. The assembly of ISS started in 1998, which is continuing even today. Various researches conducted in the ISS made it possible for modern-day space tourism.

Basic concepts that governs the Space Stations

These are basic concepts to get a clear idea about the working of Space ships.

  • Orbit: An orbit is a regular, repeating, path of a satellite around a celestial body.
  • Orbital Velocity: It is the speed required by an object to remain in an orbit of a celestial body. The object's velocity should overcome the gravitational pull of the celestial body and align with its rotational velocity.
  • Gravitational Pull: The gravity of an object is the force that pulls the smaller object towards its center. It is the force responsible for planets to revolve around the sun.
  • Microgravity: It is the condition in which the gravity will be at mico level. The objects will face weightlessness.
  • Escape Velocity: It is the minimum speed required by an object to move away from the gravitational influence of a large body.
  • Controlled Re-entry: It is the forced re-entry of an artificial satellite over a pre-determined area. It is one of the ways to remove the retired satellites from orbit. The objects re forced to enter the earth's atmosphere where it burns due to the friction with the atmosphere.
  • Disposal Orbit: It is the orbit that lies away from the operational orbits. It is also known as graveyard orbit.
Micro gravity is the major concern for astronauts working in space station. it causes calcium loss in bones and loss of muscle mass.

Micro gravity is the major concern for astronauts working in space station. it causes calcium loss in bones and loss of muscle mass.

Architecture of a Space station

The space stations are the complex assemblage of various modules. Imagine how hard it is to build a high-tech lab in the sky and proper maintenance of it. In the initial days of space exploration, a single module is launched to perform researches. In later stages, two or more modules are launched independently and assembled in space.

The assembly of the International space station begins in 1998. It is like building a house when we are living inside.

Major Components in a Space Station

A space station has various components assembled to form a complete structure.

  • Pressurized Modules: These are the areas where astronauts live and work. They are shaped like canisters and spheres. It has living quarters and laboratories.
  • Nodes: These are the connecting elements between various modules. They allow the astronauts and equipment to pass to other station areas.
  • Docking Ports: They are used to attach various vehicles launched at different periods of time to ISS.
  • Integrated Truss Structure: It is the backbone of a space station. It is made up of many triangular structures and beams. Solar panels and radiators are attached here. It maintains the temperature of the space station.
  • Remote Manipulator System: It is the robotic arm of the space station. It helps to construct the station by moving the modules. They are also used to retrieve cargo from the shuttle bay.
  • External Research and Payload Accommodation: It provides multiple mounting locations outside a space station for the experiments conducted outside the facility.

The Journey of Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos increased humanity's crush on space.

Launching a Space Station

Johannes Kepler explained the idea of orbital velocity to the modern world. The revolution of the moon around the earth and the planets around the sun due to the orbital velocity achieved by the planets. When the orbital velocity is low, the object will be attracted by gravity. When orbital velocity is high, it escapes the orbit and enters into space.

The Space Station is a complex assemblage of machinery. Rockets are used to launch different modules. When a rocket is launched, it takes the modules to a particular altitude. Then it travels in the orbit parallel to the earth. The modules are released from the rocket when it reaches the required orbital velocity.

At orbital velocity, the modules travel around the earth without any propulsion. But due to the friction caused by the air molecules, the space station loses its altitude. To adjust the altitude, the space station uses a propulsion system. International Space Station loses 90Metres every day due to atmospheric interference.

Saturn V of NASA is the tallest heaviest and most powerful rocket ever used.

Saturn V of NASA is the tallest heaviest and most powerful rocket ever used.

How Does the International Space Station get its supplies?

International Space Station travels at a speed of 17500 miles per hour at an average altitude of 250 miles. The ISS orbits the planet earth 16 times in a day. Various experiments in the field of Biology, fundamental physics, material sciences are studied in ISS.

The Space station gets a majority of its electricity from the solar panels. The energy is stored in lithium-ion batteries. The service modules and supply ships boost the propulsion for altitude adjustment and to avoid debris. The astronauts in the space station communicate through the tracking and data relay satellites. They use GPS and the Russian satellite system to track the location.

Oxygen is supplied from the earth by spacecraft. ISS also has a system to generate oxygen using electrolysis. The crew entirely depends on supply from the earth for food. Most of the food arrives in a specially designed packet. 80% of water is recycled.

Microgravity is the major concern of the International Space Station. It is the condition in which the gravity is not strong enough to pull the objects. So everything in ISS floats. In microgravity, bones lose calcium, and muscle loses mass(Osteoporosis). The astronauts have to do regular workouts to stay strong and avoid osteoporosis. They are equipped with a customized treadmill, an exercise bike, and a weight lifting device.

Astronaut Frank De Winne, attached to the TVIS treadmill with bungee cords aboard the ISS

Astronaut Frank De Winne, attached to the TVIS treadmill with bungee cords aboard the ISS

"The thing I'll remember most about the flight is that it was fun. In fact, I'm sure it was the most fun that I'll ever have in my life."

— - Sally K. Ride, First Woman to Orbit Earth on the Space Shuttle

Decommissioning a Space Station

The satellites and space stations are designed to work for a particular period of time. When the satellites performed their work, they are decommissioned either by controlled re-entry or by pushing them into a disposal orbit. Around 3000 dead satellites are orbiting the earth.

Check this Video for the Tour of International Space Station

Future of Space Stations

The Space Stations are truly an engineering wonder that humans can ever build. With the advent of corporations in space exploration, curiosity is increasing every day. When the scientific community works together, it is not so hard for humans to travel in space beyond Low Earth Orbit. Well, let's wait to travel in space to have a glass of champagne with the Aliens on other planets.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Jagatheesh Aruchami

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