Scientific research on the International Space Station

Expedition 8 Commander and Science Officer Michael Foale conducts an inspection of the Microgravity Science Glovebox.
European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Reiter, STS-116 mission specialist, works with the Passive Observatories for Experimental Microbial Systems in Micro-G (POEMS) payload in the Minus Eighty Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station while Space Shuttle Discovery was docked with the station. MELFI is a low temperature freezer facility with nominal operating temperatures of -80, -26 and +4 °C that will preserve experiment materials over long periods.
ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, STS-116 mission specialist, works with the Passive Observatories for Experimental Microbial Systems in Micro-G (POEMS) payload in the Minus Eighty Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) inside the Destiny laboratory.

Scientific research on the International Space Station is a collection of experiments that require one or more of the unusual conditions present in low Earth orbit. The primary fields of research include human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology.[1][2] The 2005 NASA Authorization Act designated the American segment of the International Space Station as a national laboratory with the goal of increasing the use of the ISS by other federal agencies and the private sector.[3]

Research on the ISS improves knowledge about the effects of long-term space exposure on the human body. Subjects currently under study include muscle atrophy, bone loss, and fluid shift. The data will be used to determine whether space colonisation and lengthy human spaceflight are feasible. As of 2006, data on bone loss and muscular atrophy suggest that there would be a significant risk of fractures and movement problems if astronauts landed on a planet after a lengthy interplanetary cruise (such as the six-month journey time required to fly to Mars).[4][5]Large scale medical studies are conducted aboard the ISS via the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI). Prominent among these is the Advanced Diagnostic Ultrasound in Microgravity study in which astronauts (including former ISS Commanders Leroy Chiao and Gennady Padalka) perform ultrasound scans under the guidance of remote experts. The study considers the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions in space. Usually, there is no physician on board the ISS, and diagnosis of medical conditions is a challenge. It is anticipated that remotely guided ultrasound scans will have application on Earth in emergency and rural care situations where access to a trained physician is difficult.[6][7][8]

Researchers are investigating the effect of the station's near-weightless environment on the evolution, development, growth and internal processes of plants and animals. In response to some of this data, NASA wants to investigate microgravity's effects on the growth of three-dimensional, human-like tissues, and the unusual protein crystals that can be formed in space.[9]

The investigation of the physics of fluids in microgravity will allow researchers to model the behaviour of fluids better. Because fluids can be almost completely combined in microgravity, physicists investigate fluids that do not mix well on Earth. In addition, an examination of reactions that are slowed by low gravity and temperatures will give scientists a deeper understanding of superconductivity.[9]

The study of materials science is an important ISS research activity, with the objective of reaping economic benefits through the improvement of techniques used on the ground.[10] Other areas of interest include the effect of the low gravity environment on combustion, through the study of the efficiency of burning and control of emissions and pollutants. These findings may improve our knowledge about energy production, and lead to economic and environmental benefits. Future plans are for the researchers aboard the ISS to examine aerosols, ozone, water vapour, and oxides in Earth's atmosphere, as well as cosmic rays, cosmic dust, antimatter, and dark matter in the universe.[9]

ISS science facilities

ELC-2 on the SSRMS prior to its placement on the S3 Truss.jpg

When completed, The ISS will include a number of modules devoted to scientific activity as well as other hardware designed for the same purpose.
Laboratory modules:

  • Columbus
  • Destiny
  • Kibo or the Japanese Experiment Module
  • Poisk or Mini-Research Module 2
  • Rassvet or Mini-Research Module 1
  • Nauka or Multipurpose Laboratory Module (not yet launched)

Scientific hardware not attached to any laboratory module:

Columbus (ISS module)

Internal scientific hardware:

External scientific hardware:

Destiny (ISS module)

Planned for launch:

  • Basic Express Rack 9B (ISS facility) | BER-9B ExPRESS Rack with only cooling and electrical power, eight Mid Deck Locker payloads. Launched on HTV-6
  • Basic Express Rack 10B (ISS facility) | BER-10B
  • Second Glove Box, MSG-2 or Live Science Glovebox LSG

Kibo (ISS module)

Internal scientific hardware:

External scientific hardware:

  • Japanese Experiment Module - Exposed Facility [39]

Poisk (ISS module)

  • Multipurpose workstation (MWS)

ISS small hardware

ISS sub-rack


  • Advanced Biological Research System (ABRS) [53]
  • Advanced Protein Crystallization Facility (APCF) [54]
  • ARCTIC Refrigerator-Freezer (ARCTIC) [55]
  • Biotechnology Specimen Temperature Controller (BSTC) [56]
  • Biotechnology Temperature Refrigerator (BTR) [57]
  • Boiling Experiment Facility (BXF) [58]
  • Clean Bench (CB)[59]
  • Cell Biology Experiment Facility (CBEF)[60]
  • Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (CGBA)[61]
  • Commercial Plant Biotechnology Facility (CPBF)[62]
  • Commercial Refrigerator Incubator Module - Modified (CRIM-M) [63]
  • European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) [64]
  • Fluid Physics Experiment Facility (FPEF) [65]
  • Flywheel Exercise Device (FWED)[66]
  • Image Processing Unit (IPU)[67]
  • Mice Drawer System Facility (MDS_Facility)[68]
  • Microgravity Vibration Isolation Subsystem (MVIS)[69]
  • Portable Astroculture Chamber (PASC)[70]
  • Protein Crystal Growth - Single Locker Thermal Enclosure System (PCG-STES)[71]
  • Protein Crystallization Research Facility (PCRF)[72]
  • Pulmonary Function System (PFS)[73]
  • Portable Glovebox (PGB)[74]
  • Refrigerated Centrifuge (RC)[75]
  • Solution Crystallization Observation Facility (SCOF)[76]
  • Space Linear Acceleration Mass Measurement Device (SLAMMD)[77]
  • Human Research Facility Ultrasound on the International Space Station (Ultrasound)[78]

ISS stowage


  • Autonomous Biological System (ABS)[79]
  • Advanced Space Experiment Processor (ADSEP)[80]
  • Astro Garden[81]
  • Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC)[82]
  • Cell Culturing (CellCult)[83]
  • Group Activation Pack - Fluid Processing Apparatus (GAP-FPA)[84]
  • Granada Crystallization Facility (GCF)[85]

ISS mid-deck locker


ISS mid-deck locker insert


  • Biotube[93]
  • Kennedy Space Center Gaseous Nitrogen Freezer (GN2)[94]