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Spacelab concept art, with cutaway of interior (1981)

Spacelab was a reusable laboratory used on certain spaceflights flown by the Space Shuttle. The laboratory comprised multiple components, including a pressurized module, an unpressurized carrier and other related hardware housed in the Shuttle's cargo bay. The components were arranged in various configurations to meet the needs of each spaceflight.

Spacelab components flew on a total of 32 Shuttle missions. Spacelab allowed scientists to perform experiments in microgravity in earth orbit.


Spacelab layout showing tunnel, pressurized Module and Pallet

In August 1973, NASA and ESRO (now European Space Agency or ESA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to build a science laboratory for use on Space Shuttle flights.[1] Construction of Spacelab was started in 1974 by the ERNO (daughter of VFW-Fokker GmbH, after merger with MBB named MBB/ERNO, and since 2003 part of EADS SPACE Transportation). The first components produced, including lab module, LM1, were given to NASA free of charge by ESA in exchange for flight opportunities for European astronauts. A second module, LM2, was bought by NASA for its own use from ERNO.[citation needed]


In addition to the laboratory module, the complete set also included five external pallets for experiments in vacuum, built by British Aerospace (BAe) and a pressurized igloo containing the subsystems needed for the pallet-only flight configuration operation. Eight flight configurations were qualified though more could be assembled.

Habitable module

Spacelab flight configurations

The Spacelab Module comprises a cylindrical main laboratory configurable as Short or Long Module flown in the rear of the Space Shuttle cargo bay, connected to the crew compartment by a tunnel. The laboratory had an outer diameter of 4.12 meters (13.5 ft), and each segment a length of 2.7 meters (8.9 ft). Most of the time two segments were used in forming the Long Module configuration.

Two habitable modules were built, named LM1 and LM2. LM2 is now on display in the Bremenhalle exhibition in the Bremen Airport of Bremen, Germany.


The Spacelab Pallet is a U-shaped platform for mounting instrumentation, large instruments, experiments requiring exposure to space, and instruments requiring a large field of view, such as telescopes. The pallet has several hard points for mounting heavy equipment. The pallet can be used in single configuration or stacked end to end in double or triple configurations. Up to five pallets can be configured in the Space Shuttle cargo bay by using a double plus triple pallet.

A Spacelab Pallet was transferred to the Swiss Museum of Transport for permanent display on 5 March 2010. The Pallet, nicknamed Elvis, was used during the eight-day STS-46 mission, 31 July - 8 August 1992, when ESA astronaut Claude Nicollier was on board Shuttle Atlantis to deploy ESA's European Retrievable Carrier (Eureca) scientific mission and the joint NASA/Italian Space Agency Tethered Satellite System (TSS-1). The Pallet carried TSS-1 in the Shuttle's cargo bay.[2]

The Spacelab Pallet used to transport both Canadarm2 and Dextre to the International Space Station is currently to be found at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, on loan from NASA through the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).[3]


On spaceflight where a habitable module was not flown, but pallets were flown, a pressurized cylinder known as the igloo carried the subsystems needed to operate the Spacelab equipment.[4] The igloo was 10 feet tall, had a diameter of 5 feet, and weighed 2500 lbs.[5] Two igloo units were manufactured, both by Belgium company SABCA, and both were used on spaceflight.[5] An igloo component was flown on Spacelab 2, Astro-1, ATLAS-1, ATLAS-2, ATLAS-3, and Astro-2.[5]

Other components

Instrument Pointing System (IPS)

Other Spacelab elements include the tunnel, and the Instrument Pointing System (IPS) tailored to the pallet interfaces for precise pointing to space or earth targets.

Spacelab missions

Spacelab in payload bay during STS-90
Shuttle Columbia during STS-9 with Spacelab Module LM1 and tunnel in its cargo bay
Illustrated cutaway of orbiter and lab

Spacelab components flew on 22 Space Shuttle missions from November 1983 to April 1998.[6] The Spacelab components were decommissioned in 1998, except the pallets. Science work was moved to the International Space Station and Spacehab module, a pressurized carrier similar to the Spacelab Module. A Spacelab Pallet was recommissioned in 2002 for flight on STS-99. The "Spacelab Pallet - Deployable 1 (SLP-D1) with Canadian Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, Dextre" was launched on STS-123. "Spacelab Pallet - Deployable 2 (SLP-D2)" was scheduled for STS-127.[citation needed] The Spacelab components were used on 32 Shuttle missions in total.

Mission name Orbiter Launch date Spacelab
mission name
STS-2 Columbia November 12, 1981 OSTA-1 1 Pallet[7]
STS-3 Columbia March 22, 1982 OSS-1 1 Pallet[8]
STS-9 Columbia November 28, 1983 Spacelab 1 Module LM1 1 Pallet
STS-41-G Challenger October 5, 1984 OSTA-3 Pallet[9]
STS-51-B Challenger April 29, 1985 Spacelab 3 Module LM1 MPESS
STS-51-F Challenger July 29, 1985 Spacelab 2 Igloo 3 Pallets + IPS
STS-61-A (D1) Challenger October 30, 1985 Spacelab D1 Module LM2 MPESS
STS-35 Columbia December 2, 1990 ASTRO-1 Igloo 2 Pallets + IPS
STS-40 Columbia June 5, 1991 SLS-1 Module LM1
STS-42 Discovery January 22, 1992 IML-1 Module LM2
STS-45 Atlantis March 24, 1992 ATLAS-1 Igloo 2 Pallets
STS-50 Columbia June 25, 1992 USML-1 Module LM1 EDO
STS-46 Atlantis July 31, 1992 1 Pallet[2]
STS-47 (J) Endeavour September 12, 1992 Spacelab-J Module LM2
STS-56 Discovery April 8, 1993 ATLAS-2 Igloo 1 Pallet
STS-55 (D2) Columbia April 26, 1993 Spacelab D2 Module LM1 Unique Support Structure (USS)
STS-58 Columbia October 18, 1993 SLS-2 Module LM2 EDO
STS-59 Endeavour April 9, 1994 SRL-1 1 Pallet
STS-65 Columbia July 8, 1994 IML-2 Module LM1 EDO
STS-64 Discovery September 9, 1994 LITE 1 Pallet[10]
STS-68 Endeavour September 30, 1994 SRL-2 1 Pallet
STS-66 Atlantis November 3, 1994 ATLAS-3 Igloo 1 Pallet
STS-67 Endeavour March 2, 1995 ASTRO-2 Igloo 2 Pallets + EDO
STS-71 Atlantis June 27, 1995 Spacelab-Mir Module LM2
STS-73 Columbia October 20, 1995 USML-2 Module LM1 EDO
STS-75 Columbia February 22, 1996 Pallet[9]
STS-78 Columbia June 20, 1996 LMS Module LM2 EDO
STS-82 Discovery February 21, 1997 Pallet[9]
STS-83 Columbia April 4, 1997 MSL-1 Module LM1 EDO
STS-94 Columbia July 1, 1997 MSL-1R Module LM1 EDO
STS-90 Columbia April 17, 1998 Neurolab Module LM2 EDO
STS-99 Endeavour February 11, 2000 SRTM Pallet

Besides contributing to ESA missions, Germany and Japan each funded their own Space Shuttle and Spacelab missions. Although superficially similar to other flights, they were actually the first and only non-U.S. and non-European manned space missions with complete German and Japan control.[citation needed]

The Deutschland-1 orbital space plane flight, funded by West Germany, included over seven tons of German science research equipment

The first West German mission Deutschland 1 (Spacelab-D1, DLR-1, NASA designation STS-61-A) took place in 1985. A second similar mission, Deutschland 2 (Spacelab-D2, DLR-2, NASA designation STS-55), was first planned for 1988, but due to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, was delayed until 1993. It became the first German manned space mission after German reunification.[11]

The only Japan mission, Spacelab-J (NASA designation STS-47), took place in 1992.

Other missions

Cancelled missions

Spacelab-4, Spacelab-5 and other planned Spacelab missions were cancelled due to the late development of the Shuttle and the Challenger disaster.


Spacelab LM2 in Bremen, Germany (2008)

The legacy of Spacelab lives on in the form of the MPLMs and the systems derived from it. These systems include the ATV and Cygnus spacecraft used to transfer payloads to the International Space Station, and the Columbus, Harmony and Tranquility modules of the International Space Station.[12][13]


  1. Lord 1987, pp. 24-28.
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