ISS gets a new research platform, Bartolomeo, attached to its exterior

The International Space Station (ISS) will soon be receiving a new research platform, Bartolomeo, which will play host to both scientific and commercial projects. Created by Airbus and hosted by the European Space Agency (ESA), the platform is heading to the ISS aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft this weekend.

The platform provides an unpressurized environment with a good view of the Earth, not blocked by the ISS’s solar cells. It will draw power from the station’s Columbus module which is then distributed across the platform via 12 interfaces, providing power to the experiments or equipment on the platform. One interface can be operated by robot, similar to the Columbus module.

“Bartolomeo is the first European commercial facility outside the International Space Station, offering a high-speed data feed and a unique view of Earth and deep space,” ESA’s Bernhard Hufenbach, leader of the strategy and innovation team for human and robotic exploration, said in a statement. “The versatile Bartolomeo service provides easy access to space at competitive pricing and will expand the use of Europe’s assets on the International Space Station for many years to come.”

A visualization of the Bartolomeo platform attached to the International Space Station.
A visualization of the Bartolomeo platform attached to the International Space Station. Airbus

Measuring plasma to predict space weather

The first experiment which will be placed on the platform is a Langmuir probe, a device that measures electron temperature and density more accurately than other methods. By measuring the electron qualities of plasma in the space environment, researchers can understand more about how signals from satellites are distorted as they pass through the plasma in the Earth’s atmosphere. This could help to develop more accurate space weather forecasting and to provide information about what kind of disruptions to GPS and other satellite signals are to be expected due to space weather events.

Preparing the station for its new addition

Astronauts on board the ISS have already prepared the station for its latest addition, with spacewalks performed to prepare the outside of the station with new support pins. Astronaut Jessica Mier also set up the internal hardware which will connect to the module two weeks ago.

The Bartolomeo platform is being carried aboard the external cargo hold of a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft which launched on Friday and is scheduled to arrive at the ISS early on Monday, March 9. Once it arrives, Bartolomeo will be removed from the cargo hold and placed into position on the Columbus module using the station’s robotic arm.

The final step is to actually install the module, which will be done on a spacewalk within the next few months.

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