Columbus laboratory ready for take-off
The Columbus laboratory, Europe’s first laboratory for long-term research in space conditions, is due to be launched on 8 December, it will hitch a lift with NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis,
taking off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, US.
The Columbus laboratory is the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) biggest single contribution to the International Space Station. The 4.5-metre diameter cylindrical module is equipped with a wide
range of research facilities that offer extensive science capabilities.
The laboratory has a planned operational lifetime of 10 years. During that time thousands of scientific experiments will be conducted on board in various fields, such as life sciences,
materials science and fluid physics. All will investigate the effects of weightlessness.
The structure has room for 10 payload racks, eight situated in the sidewalls, and two in the ceiling area. Each rack is the size of a telephone booth and able to host its own autonomous and
independent laboratory, complete with power and cooling systems. Experiments can also be mounted outside Columbus in order to investigate the effects of exposure to the space environment. Video
and data is sent back to researchers on Earth.
Once in orbit, Columbus will be taken out of the cargo bay by Atlantis’ robotic arm.
The launch was originally planned for 6 December, but then postponed due to a problem with a fuel cut-off sensor system inside the shuttle’s external fuel tank. The system is important as it
helps to protect the shuttle’s main engines by triggering their shut down if fuel runs unexpectedly low.