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COF (Columbus)

COF (Columbus) [NASA]

The science module COF (Columbus Orbital Facility) is ESA's biggest single contribution to the International Space Station. Currently scheduled to launch late in 2004, the 4.5 meter cylindrical module will give an enormous boost to the station's research capabilities. During its 10-year projected lifespan, Earth-based researchers will be able to conduct thousands of experiments in life sciences, materials science, fluid physics and a whole host of other disciplines, all in the weightlessness of orbit.

To keep costs low and reliability high, Columbus shares its basic structure and life-support systems with the Italian Space Agency's Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules (MPLM). But whereas the MPLM is aptly described as a 'space moving van' - albeit a very sophisticated moving van - the 75 cubic meters of space inside Columbus contains an entire suite of science laboratories. The module has room for 10 International Standard Payload Racks, each hosting an entire laboratory in miniature - complete with power and cooling systems, and video and data links to researchers back on Earth.

ESA is developing a range of payload racks, all tailored to squeeze the maximum amount of research from the minimum of space and to offer European scientists across a wide range of disciplines full access to a weightless environment that cannot possibly be duplicated on Earth. The Biolab, for example, supports experiments on micro-organisms, cell and tissue culture, and even small plants and animals. Another rack contains the European Physiology Modules, a set of experiments that will examine how the human body behaves in the absence of gravity. With luck, the results of these could lead to improved treatment for age-related bone loss and other ailments back on Earth. A Material Science Laboratory will investigate solidification physics, notably zero-gravity crystallization, and a Fluid Science Laboratory will accommodate experiments in the strange behaviour of weightless liquids. These too, could bring far-reaching benefits on Earth: better ways to clean up oil spills, for example, and even improved manufacture of optical lenses.

Outside its comfortable, pressurized hull, Columbus has four mounting points for external payloads. Exposed to the vacuum of space, science packages can investigate anything from the ability of bacteria to survive on an artificial meteorite to volcanic activity 400 km below on the Earth.

Nation: Europe
Type / Application: Space station laboratory module
Operator: ESA
Equipment: ?
Propulsion: None
Power: Provided by ISS
Lifetime: 10 years
Mass: 10275 kg
Orbit: 400 km × 400 km, 51.6 (typical)
Satellite COSPAR Date LS Launch Vehicle Remarks
COF (Columbus) N/A 07.02.2008 CCK LC-39A Shuttle with Atlantis F-29 (STS-122)

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