The world’s ultimate observation deck, a control tower for robotics in space, and a sunroom like no other, has arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC). It is bound for the International Space Station.
Built in Italy for the United States segment of the Station, the Cupola traveled part way around the world to reach KSC. One day it will circle the Earth every 90 minutes, and crewmembers will peer through its 360-degree windows. It will serve as a literal skylight to control some of the most sophisticated robotics ever built.
“The Cupola module will be a fascinating addition to the Space Station,” said International Space Station Program Manager Bill Gerstenmaier. “The crew will have an improved view of critical activities outside the Station and breathtaking views of the Earth below.”
The crew will use Cupola windows, six around the sides and one on the top, for line-of-sight monitoring of outside activities, including spacewalks, docking operations and exterior equipment surveys. The Cupola will be used specifically to monitor the approach and berthing of the Japanese H-2 supply craft and other visiting vehicles. The Cupola will serve as the primary location for controlling Canadarm2, the 60-foot Space Station robotic arm.
Space Station crews use two robotic control workstations in the Destiny laboratory to operate the arm. One of the robotic control stations will be placed inside the Cupola. The view from the Cupola will enhance an arm operator’s situational awareness, supplementing television cameras and graphics.
Construction of the Cupola by Alenia Spazio, under a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA), is finished. It was delivered to KSC on Oct. 7, where it will undergo acceptance testing and launch preparations.
After initial inspections conducted in the Space Station Processing Facility, the Cupola was secured inside its
transportation container for storage until launch preparations begin. Before launch, KSC and European Space Agency (ESA) engineers will conduct a joint inspection leading to the turnover of the Cupola to NASA.
The Cupola is scheduled to launch on Station assembly mission 14A (Shuttle mission STS-133) in early 2009. It will be installed on the forward port of Node 3, a connecting module to be installed in 2008. The Cupola was provided by ESA to NASA as part of a barter agreement. The agreement covers launch of external payloads on the Shuttle for installation on the External Facility of the European Columbus research module.
For images of the Cupola on the Internet, visit: