The International Space Station (ISS) traces its heritage back to early plans for the United States Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program to the US Skylab, the Shuttle’s Space Lab and then through the multiple Soviet space stations culminating in the Mir. With the successful development and launch of the Space Shuttle, the United States was ready to take on a much larger space station concept. In the fall of 1985, NASA put together a plan for a dual-keel design with multiple US, European and Japanese research modules along with Canada’s planned Mobile Servicing System. By 1986, this had changed due to the Challenger accident and other safety considerations. A major new addition was a new “lifeboat” vehicle that would accommodate emergency returns to Earth. All of these changes caused the estimated price to double. By the end of the 1980s, the station design (now called Space Station Freedom) had shrunk along with total crew (down to four), electrical power generation (from 75 to 56 kw) and for budgetary reasons, there was no defined end-state for the station. By 1990, the modified station cost was several times higher than the original plan.3 By 1993, the station design had continued to evolve and cost estimates continued to grow.v
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The International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) defines Systems Engineering (SE) as an “interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realization of successful systems. It focuses on defining customer needs and required functionality early in the development cycle, documenting requirements, and then proceeding with design synthesis and system validation while considering the complete problem: operations, performance, test, manufacturing, cost and schedule, training and support, and disposal.”1 This case study on the International Space Station considers what many believe to have been the ultimate international engineering project in history.2
Probably more important was the significant leap in System Engineering (SE) execution that would be required to build and operate a multi-national space station.