COLUMBUS module headed for the ISS International Space Station

COLUMBUS Integration in Shuttle
COLUMBUS Integration in Shuttle © NASA

At the Bremen-based space technology company OHB, all eyes were glued to the screens last night when Space Shuttle Atlantis lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 09.45 pm CET on its flight to the ISS International Space Station. On board the Shuttle is the European research laboratory COLUMBUS, which will be docking with the ISS in three days’ time. Over the past few years, project teams have made crucial contributions to the COLUMBUS mission. In fact, OHB is the only European company to be involved in the development of the scientific research facilities for the COLUMBUS module and is supplying the first biological experiment for the European space research laboratory.

How does weightlessness affect the human organism?

These and other questions are to be answered by the EPM medical research laboratory, which was developed and built for the European Space Agency ESA under the supervision of OHB. One week after launch, French astronaut Léopold Eyhardts is to put the EPM into operation. EPM is made up of several modules allowing the astronauts to perform various examinations in the area of human physiology. One of these modules is the “Cardiolab”, a medical diagnostics system which will be used to examine how the cardio/vascular system adjusts to gravity-free conditions over an extended period of time in space. In the first EPM experiment, the “MEEMM” module will be used to measure the brain waves and muscular activity of the astronauts on board the ISS.

How do plants grow without gravity?

Questions concerning the gravitation biology of plants and small organisms will be looked into by BIOLAB, the biological laboratory on board the ISS. OHB built the first experiment for this research laboratory. Known as WAICO, the research system will be examining root growth in arabidopsis, also known as thale or mouse-ear cress, in varying degrees of gravity as well as in completely weightless conditions. The OHB model provides for fully automatic execution of the experiment, with the astronaut’s task largely confined to sowing the arabidopsis seed in the 16 experiment containers and placing them on centrifuges in the BIOLAB incubator. This incubator is fitted with a life support system to create the atmospheric conditions necessary for the plants to grow, while the centrifuges will simulate various degrees of gravity right up to twice the earth’s gravity. Both the centrifuges and the life support system have been sourced from OHB.

How do the astronauts keep fit?

By using the Flywheel fitness device, developed and built by OHB especially for conditions in outer space. The central element of the ISS home trainer is a flywheel which creates a yoyo effect to ensure very effective training even in weightless conditions. The idea is based on a patent owned by YoYo Technology AB, Stockholm, a member of the OHB project team.

In outer space, astronauts are prone to muscle and bone atrophy as well as strain on their circulatory systems because their bodies are no longer exposed to the effects of gravity. To rectify this situation, it is important for astronauts to engage in regular sport in space in particular. In a total of eight different exercises, the Flywheel trains the muscles of the buttock, legs and arms. In contrast to the equipment currently being used, it therefore covers nearly all the main elements of the muscular system. In developing the flywheel, OHB has thus attached particular importance to simple and very safe use so that an individual astronaut on board the ISS can use it independently without any risk of injury.

Where do astronauts stow their kit?

The Flywheel is being sent to the ISS in a special stowage and transport rack, the European Transport Carrier ETC. OHB has developed and built the rack for ESA as the main contractor. The ETC safely holds the equipment and sensitive samples for the research activities to be conducted in the European COLUMBUS module. More than half of the equipment being transported by the ETC originates from OHB; for example, a high-speed camera for the Fluid Science Lab FSL and five medical devices for the European Physiology Module EPM.

How many kilometers of cable does COLUMBUS have?

OHB has assembled the entire harness for the electronic test module (ETM) as well as the flight module (FM) for the European space laboratory COLUMBUS. Each module contains around 1,700 connectors with over 12,000 contacts as well as 33 different types of cables with a total length of over 30 km.

The harnesses for both modules were produced and then tested in OHB’s Columbus clean room The name is no coincidence as Prof. Manfred Fuchs, CEO of OHB-System AG, is the one who named the COLUMBUS module.

Kayser-Threde GmbH, an affiliate of OHB-System AG, is also materially involved in the development of the COLUMBUS research facilities (see

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Günther Hörbst
Head of Corporate Communications

Manfred-Fuchs-Platz 2-4
28359 Bremen

Phone.: +49 421 2020-9438
Mobile: +49 171 1931041