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THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION HAS AN ITALIAN HEART THANKS TO THE ‘HARMONY’ MODULE
The International Space Station also speaks Italian thanks to the Node 2 “Harmony” made by Thales Alenia Space , a joint venture between the French Thales and the Italian Finmeccanica. In recent months, in November 2007, the space mission Esperia, aiming to connect Node 2 to the Station, was accomplished. Designed and built in Thales Alenia Space’s Turin factory of , Harmony is the crucial element to enlarge the living space of the station and allow the connection of the scientific laboratories. The International Space Station’s structure encompasses three nodes: the first one was built in the United States by Boeing, while the design and assembly of the other two, more evolved and complex, was entrusted to the ESA (European Space Agency) and commissioned to an industry team led by Thales Alenia Space.
The nodes are fundamental elements in the architecture of the International Space Station: they allow the interconnection and the management of the various pressurised modules and function, thanks to their hatches, as the docking points for space shuttles in case of emergency. The nodes are truly multifunctional units, allowing the astronauts’ passage from one section to another of the Station and make the environment suitable for living and researching in microgravity. In particular, Nodes 2 and 3 include permanent accommodation for four people, machinery and equipment to purify water, manage the astronauts’ personal hygiene, dispose of carbon dioxide and generate oxygen. The size of the two modules is the same: 4.6 meters in diameter, 7 meters in length and approximately 14 tons in weight. Node 2 alone will increase the occupants’ living space by about 500 cubic meters.
“The creation of Node 2 – one of the ‘fathers’ of the project, engineer Walter Cugno of Thales Alenia Space explains - has posed great challenges in terms of design and technology to build the structure. More precisely, it was not easy to plan for six docking hatches, two on the sides and four opening along the circumference”. The module has the form of a cylinder with two cones at the ends and the presence of doors in a pressurized section threatened to weaken the structure’s hold. “Even more so - Cugno continues – if one considers the weight distribution on an aluminum structure that must work in a void. Building the four side hatches was a great planning and technological challenge”.
Another challenge in the construction of Node 2 involved the need to allow maintenance of the module to be conducted in orbit, respecting an efficient use of all available space and, at the same time, facilitating the most rapid and simple part replacement or repair. “The greatest difficulty – Cugno explains – was to reconcile all this with the best ‘liveability’”. It is easy to understand how the construction of Node 2 has involved broad competences: engineering, ergonomics, technology, science of materials. «Without forgetting – Cugno concludes – the technical-managerial abilities required to coordinate the pool of companies involved in the project and to manage the relevant economic risks. The value of the Node alone is around 300 million euros”.
Thales Alenia Space has made pressurized space modules for 30 years. Its contribution to the construction of the International Space Station is of great import, and only second to that carried out by the American Boeing, the first industrial contractor for the entire orbital complex. Thales Alenia Space will produce over 50% of the total pressurized volume – i.e. liveable space. The European leader in satellite systems, Thales Alenia Space is state of the art also in terms of orbital infrastructure. The main sectors for the application of its solutions are telecommunications, defence, security and observation of the Earth through optical or radar equipment. With eleven factories scattered between France, Italy, Spain and Belgium, the group boasts 7,200 local employees.