Columbus

The ESA Columbus programme started in commemoration of the Columbus discoveries in 1492 as an ambitious project to start low earth orbit manned space exploration, based on a number of contributing elements :

  • the Man Tended Free Flyer, a free flying space station, supporting visiting European astronauts

  • the Attached Pressurized Module, a manned space laboratory, to be coupled to the planned International Space Station

  • the Polar Platform, an autonomous unmanned polar orbiting instrument platform

During the same time period, also the CNES driven Hermes and Ariane 5 projects were underway. The initial target was to develop the different contributing elements based on using the same kind of technologies for the flight equipment. Ongoing changes in the European landscape lead to budgetary limitations driven by political developments within Europe leading to cost optimization and redirection of efforts ending up with a programme which resulted in the development of what is now known as the Columbus Orbital Facility (COF)  or the 'Columbus Lab', now attached to the International Space Station.


Our involvement

Antwerp Space has been involved in ESA's Manned Space Columbus programme from the very early stage. This was also due to its involvement in Spacelab, a reusable laboratory used on certain spaceflights flown by the Space Shuttle, where, at that time being Bell Telephone Mfg, delivered the complete Electrical Ground Support test facilities to MBB/ERNO in Bremen.

The Columbus programme activities were :

  • during the Man Tended Free Flyer (MTFF) study phase, responsible for the definition of the Electrical Ground Support equipment configuration

  • for the Attached Pressurised Module (APM), the realisation of the integrated Electrical Ground Support Equipment configurations

During this period several other development activities were also performed :

  • development of the network and time distribution software components for the Columbus Ground Support Software for MBB/ERNO (now Airbus Bremen)

  • development of the Electrical Ground Support Equipment for the Data Management System for the ISS Russian Module (DMS-R) for MBB/ERNO (now Airbus Bremen)

  • development of the Mil STD 1553-B Data Interface Front-End Assembly for the European Robotic Arm (ERA)


The Columbus Orbital Facility (COF) Electrical Ground Support Equipment was a complete test set-up used during the integration and validation phases of the flight unit, used up to the launch phase in the USA. Antwerp Space was subsystem responsible for the definition, design, implementation, integration, qualification and post-delivery support of the 2 EGSE configurations.


These systems contained :

  • 6 Mil STD1553B Data Interface Front-Ends, simulating the command and control communication links with the International Space Station (ISS), supporting CCSDS packet transfer

  • a front end matching the COF High Rate & Video Assembly unit, combining the COF Payload interfaces, simulating the ISS high speed multiplexer unit

  • a power frond end providing two 12.5 kW DC interfaces to the Columbus Lab with the necessary primary and secondary power protection

  • a Universal interface front end for controlling, simulating and measurement of the COF auxiliary interfaces

  • an overall monitoring and control system driven by the Columbus Ground Software, consisting of a cluster of workstations coupled to a dual database server for running automated test sequences

These systems delivered in 1999/2000 are still in use for occasional support activities, since the Columbus Lab is still in operation.