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Manufacturing of the International Space Station

The Space Station Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center - the prime factory for final fabrication and processing of station components for launch

The project to create the International Space Station required the utilization and/or construction of new and existing manufacturing facilities around the world, mostly in the United States and Europe. The agencies overseeing the manufacturing involved NASA, Roscosmos, the European Space Agency, JAXA, and the Canadian Space Agency. Hundreds of contractors working for the five space agencies were assigned the task of fabricating the modules, trusses, experiments and other hardware elements for the station.

The fact that the project involved the co-operation of sixteen countries working together created engineering challenges that had to be overcome: most notably the differences in language, culture and politics, but also engineering processes, management, measuring standards and communication; to ensure that all elements connect together and function according to plan. The ISS agreement program also called for the station components to be made highly durable and versatile — as it is intended to be used by astronauts indefinitely. A series of new engineering and manufacturing processes and equipment were developed, and shipments of steel, aluminium alloys and other materials were needed for the construction of the space station components.

History and planning

The project began as Space Station Freedom, a US only effort, but was long delayed by funding and technical problems. Following the initial 1980's authorization (with an intended ten year construction period) by Ronald Reagan, the Station Freedom concept was designed and renamed in the 1990s to reduce costs and expand international involvement. In 1993, the United States and Russia agreed to merge their separate space station plans into a single facility integrating their respective modules and incorporating contributions from the European Space Agency and Japan. In later months, an international agreement board recruited several more space agencies and companies to collaborate to the project. The International Organization for Standardization played a crucial role in unifying and overcoming different engineering methods (such as measurements and units), languages, standards and techniques to ensure quality, engineering communication and logistical management across all manufacturing activities of the station components.[citation needed]

Engineering designs

Engineering diagrams of various elements of the ISS, with annotations of various parts and systems on each module.

Technical blueprints

Manufacturing Information and Processes

List of factories and manufacturing processes used in the construction and fabrication of the International Space Station modular components:

Space Station component Overseeing agency and contractor(s) Manufacturing
Manufacturing date Mass
Manufacturing Processes Factory view
Zarya (FGB) NASA, Roscosmos Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center 1994 19,323 Zarya during assembly.jpg
Unity (Node 1), PMA-1 & PMA-2 NASA Marshall Space Flight Center June 6, 1997 11,612 Unity and STS-88 crew members.jpg
Zvezda (Service Module) Roscosmos Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center February 1985 19,051 Zvezda Service Module under construction.jpg
Z1 Truss & PMA-3 NASA Michoud Assembly Facility 1999 8,755 (Z1) ISS Z1 truss structure.jpg
P6 Truss & Solar Arrays NASA Michoud Assembly Facility


Solar Arrays

1999/2000 15,824 S6 Truss at SSPF.jpg

S6 Truss move to payload cannister.jpg

Destiny (US Laboratory) NASA Marshall Space Flight Center December 12, 1997 14,515 Destiny at Marshall Space Flight Center.jpg
External Stowage Platform-1 NASA
  • Airbus DS Space Systems
Goddard Space Flight Center Steel 2000 5,760 PFCS STS-114 ref 115.png
Canadarm2 (SSRMS) Canadian Space Agency Titanium 2000/01 4,899
  • Seamless rolling
  • Milling
  • Robotic assembly
STS-114 Steve Robinson on Canadarm2.jpg

Pitch Roll Joint PRJ.png

Quest (Joint Airlock) NASA Marshall Space Flight Center 2000 6,064 Quest airlock at the Marshall Space Flight Center.jpg
Pirs (Docking Compartment & Airlock) RKK Energia Korolyov, Moscow Oblast 1998 3,580 Pirs assembly.jpg
S0 Truss NASA Michoud Assembly Facility 1998/2000 13,970 ISS S0 truss in O&C.jpg

ISS S0 truss steelwork.jpg

Mobile Base System NASA Northrop Grumman factory in Carpinteria, CA 2001 1,450 STS-111 Installation of Mobile Base System.jpg
S1 Truss and Radiators NASA Michoud Assembly Facility June 2002 14,120 Heat Rejection System (HRS) Radiator.jpg
P1 Truss and Radiators NASA Michoud Assembly Facility July 2002 13.748 same as S1 Truss ISS Truss structure.jpg
  • Airbus DS Space Systems
Goddard Space Flight Center October 2005 2,676 03 NTA.jpg
P3/P4 Truss & Solar Arrays NASA Michoud Assembly Facility


Solar Arrays

2005/06 15,900 S4 truss.jpg

ISS S3 truss manufacturing at Michoud.jpg

P5 Truss NASA Operations and Checkout Building Anodized steel February 2007 1,818 P5 Truss segment prepared for launch on STS-116.jpg
S3/S4 Truss & Solar Arrays NASA Michoud Assembly Facility Same as P3/P4 trusses May 12, 2005 15,900 Same as P3/P4 trusses STS-117 payload in PCR.jpg
S5 Truss and ESP-3 NASA Operations and Checkout Building Steel (some anodized) 2007 13.795 Same as P5 and ESP-1 and 2 STS-118 ESP-3.jpg

KSC-00PP-1103 STS-106b.jpg

Harmony (Node 2)
Relocation of P6 Truss
European Space Agency, Italian Space Agency Thales Alenia Space factory in Turin, Italy May 2003 14,288 ISS Node 2 module.jpg
Columbus (European Laboratory) European Space Agency European Space Research and Technology Centre April 2006 12,800 Columbus module delivered to KSC.jpg
Dextre Canadian Space Agency MacDonald Dettwiler (now MDA Space Missions) factory in Brampton Ontario 2004 1,734 Dextre characteristics.jpg
Japanese Logistics Module (ELM-PS) JAXA Tsukuba Space Center April 2, 2007 8,386 ELM PS kibo.jpg
Japanese Pressurized Module (JEM-PM)
JEM Robotic Arm (JEM-RMS)
JAXA (formerly NASDA) Tsukuba Space Center November 2005 15,900 (JEM-PM) JAXA Kibo 001.jpg

JEM in November 2006.jpg

S6 Truss & Solar Arrays NASA Michoud Assembly Facility same as P4/S4 truss and solar arrays 2006/07 15,900 same as P4/S4 truss and solar arrays
Japanese Exposed Facility (JEM-EF) JAXA Tsukuba Space Center May 28, 2003 4,100 Kibo EF in TKSC-01.jpg
Poisk (MRM-2) Roscosmos Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center 2008/09 3,670 same as Pirs Poisk.Jpeg
ExPRESS Logistics Carriers 1 & 2 NASA All three contracting facilities 2008/09 6,277 402222main Techs working on ELC 1019.jpg


Tranquility (Node 3) NASA, European Space Agency Cannes Mandelieu Space Center Stainless steel April 2005 12,247 Iss Node 3.JPG
Cupola NASA, European Space Agency 2003/07 1,800 Cupola at KSC.jpg
Rassvet (MRM-1) Roscosmos, NASA Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center July 2009 5,075 STS132 MRM1 Astrotech1.jpg

STS-132 MRM1 Astrotech March1.jpg

Leonardo (PMM) Italian Space Agency, NASA Stainless steel 2000/01 9,896 STS-131 MPLM Leonardo preparations 1.jpg
EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 3 NASA Goddard Space Flight Center 2010/11 6,637 Same as ELC 1 & 2 ELC-3 top view.png
EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 4 NASA Goddard Space Flight Center 2010/11 6,731 Same as ELC 1 & 2 HRSR.png
Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer CERN CERN, Geneva Switzerland August 2010 6,731 Spectrometer development and assembly AMS01Geneva.jpg


Bigelow Expandable Activity Module NASA Bigelow Aerospace factory in Las Vegas, Nevada March 12, 2015 3.2 Composite lamination Bigelow Expandable Activity Module at Bigelow’s facility in Las Vegas.jpg
NanoRacks Airlock Module NanoRacks Thales Alenia Space factory

Space Station Processing Facility

2017-20 325 kg Bishop Airlock Module.jpg
Nauka (MLM)
European Robotic Arm
Roscosmos Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center Same as Zarya 2005/18 20,300 Same as Zarya, with additions MLM Nauka 1.jpg
Prichal Roscosmos Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center 2017/20 Mockup of Prichal Module.jpg
Space Station component Overseeing agency and contractor(s) Manufacturing
Manufacturing date Mass
Manufacturing Processes Factory view

Decommissioned Components are shown in gray.


The European Columbus module being unloaded from the Airbus Beluga at the Shuttle Landing Facility
Node 2 inside its transportation container on its way by road to the SSPF, past the Vehicle Assembly Building from the SLF runway

Once manufactured or fabricated sufficiently, most of the space station elements were transported by aircraft (usually the Airbus Beluga or the Antonov An-124) to the Kennedy Space Center Space Station Processing Facility for final manufacturing stages, checks and launch processing. Some elements arrived by ship at Port Canaveral.

Each module for aircraft transport was safely housed in a custom-designed shipping container with foam insulation and an outer shell of sheet metal, to protect it from damage and the elements. At their respective European, Russian and Japanese factories, the modules were transported to their nearest airport by road in their containers, loaded into the cargo aircraft and were flown to Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility for unloading and final transfers to the SSPF and or the Operations and Checkout Building in the KSC industrial area. The American and Canadian-built components such as the US lab, Node 1, Quest airlock, truss and solar array segments, and the Canadarm-2 were either flown by the Aero Spacelines Super Guppy to KSC, or transported by road and rail.

After final stages of manufacturing, systems testing and launch checkout, all ISS components are loaded into a payload transfer container in the shape of the Space Shuttle payload bay. This container safely carries the component in its launch configuration until it is hoisted vertically at the launch pad gantry for transfer to the Space Shuttle orbiter for launch and in-orbit assembly of the International Space Station.

Pre-launch processing and last stages of manufacturing

With the exception of all but one Russian-built module — Rassvet, all ISS components end up here at either one or both of these buildings at Kennedy Space Center.

Space Station Processing Facility

At the SSPF, ISS modules, trusses and solar arrays are prepped and made ready for launch. In this iconic building are two large 100,000 class clean work environment areas. Workers and engineers wear full non-contaminant clothing while working. Modules receive cleaning and polishing, and some areas are temporarily disassembled for the installation of cables, electrical systems and plumbing. Steel truss parts and module panels are assembled together with screws, bolts and connectors, some with insulation. In another area, shipments of spare materials are available for installation. International Standard Payload Rack frames are assembled and welded together, allowing the installation of instruments, machines and science experiment boxes to be fitted. Once racks are fully assembled, they are hoisted by a special manually operated robotic crane and carefully maneuvered into place inside the space station modules. Each rack weighs from 700 to 1,100 kg, and connect inside the module on special mounts with screws and latches.

Cargo bags for MPLM modules were filled with their cargo such as food packages, science experiments and other miscellaneous items on-site in the SSPF, and were loaded into the module by the same robotic crane and strapped in securely.

Operations and Checkout Building

Adjacent to the Space Station Processing Facility, the Operations and Checkout Building's spacecraft workshop is used for testing of the space station modules in a vacuum chamber to check for leaks which can be repaired on-site. Additionally, systems checking on various electrical elements and machines is conducted. Similar processing operations to the SSPF are conducted in this building if the SSPF area is full, or certain stages of preparation can only be done in the O&C.

See also

This page was last updated at 2022-05-18 15:44 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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