Airbus Defence and Space

High-altitude resupply missions

Resupplying the International Space Station is a vital mission! Not only to replenish fuel supplies and deliver spare parts, but also to provide the vital resources that make it possible for human beings to live in space: food, water, oxygen, clothing, medicine, etc. It is therefore crucial for each shipment to safely arrive right on schedule. This colossal logistics effort is remote controlled from the U.S. base in Houston and rigorously calculated to satisfy the needs of the station and its inhabitants, as well as the space limitations onboard.

Certain resupply vehicles, such as the Shuttle and the Soyuz, are capable of making the return trip home to the Earth, carrying astronauts, valuable equipment and experiment pieces in their holds. Let's not forget that the fundamental role of the International Space Station is to perform scientific research, and since 2008 it has been housing the Columbus Laboratory, which was developed and built by Airbus Defence and Space for the ESA. The main areas of research up until now have concerned human behaviour, material physics, medical and biomedical studies, chemistry and astronomy. The research work often requires costly experimentation tools that must be returned to the Earth.

A case in point is the PHARAO atomic clock, which is currently scheduled to be sent to the ISS by 2013. It would be unthinkable to leave a clock worth millions of dollars stranded in space: it must be brought back home. However, nowadays, not all the spacecraft that travel to the ISS are capable of returning to Earth. The retirement of the Space Shuttle, scheduled for the end of 2010, will have a big impact on the quantity of supplies that can be transported between the Earth and the ISS – in particular supplies used for servicing the station, which will no longer be able to receive large spares.