Earth to ISS: Norway calling

Norway has direct contact with the ISS space station. Now CIRiS – the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space – is opening a new control room.

SPACE FLIGHT: Modern space flight involves international research cooperation, and Norway has a hand on the controls.

NTNU Samfunnsforskning (NTNU Social Research)

  • One of Norway's largest research institutes in the applied social sciences.
  • Researchers have backgrounds in the social sciences, science, technology and the humanities.
  • Carries out research for various types of clients, such as research councils, ministries and directorates, companies, business organizations and more.
  • Organized into five different research units:
  1. CIRiS – Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space
  2. Studio Apertura
  3. Diversity and Inclusion
  4. Human Development
  5. NAPHA – Norwegian national centre for mental health care.
  • More than 100 permanent employees distributed among well over 80 FTE positions.
  • Limited company owned by NTNU.
  • Established as a continuation of the Allforsk research foundation in 2004, when the externally funded research portfolio in NTNU's edge zone was reorganized

From a new control room at Dragvoll in Trondheim, CIRiS now has a direct link to space – more specifically, to the International Space Station (ISS).

Way out in those starry realms, 400 km above the Earth, multiple international partners collaboratively control, use and operate the manned research station. CIRiS, one of NTNU Samfunnsforskning’s (NTNU Social Research) research units, is one of nine European control centres that manage different experiments and provide ground support for the astronauts.
“After being tucked away in a basement for so many years, we’re delighted to move our control room and our operators up into the light,” says CIRiS research manager Ann-Iren Kittang Jost, as she shows visitors around the new control room and the adjacent testing, research and teaching facilities.

“This is where our ground operators sit and can manage and monitor the experiments happening in space,” says Kittang Jost. “Experiments that are controlled from the ground require thorough and accurate planning, development and testing. They also require specified procedures for and training of the console staff. It’s no surprise that carrying out space experiments demands advanced technology, so that we can effectively measure, control and communicate about the experiments remotely. Our new control room is well equipped to do the job,” she says.

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet works at the International Space Station. Photo: ESA/NASA

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet works at the International Space Station. Photo: ESA/NASA

Growing food for Mars

As a member of the European Space Agency (ESA), Norway is part of the giant international ISS project.

The space station orbits the Earth in 90 minutes, enabling the six astronauts on board to witness 16 sunrises a day. The ISS has been manned and in continuous operation and development since 2000. The construction of the space station is a joint project between the five space agencies of NASA, Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), CSA/ASC (Canada) and ESA (Europe).

CIRiS is working to develop new concepts and technologies for closed life support systems, where water and nutrition can be recycled and plant health can be continuously monitored.

Developing new concepts is critical for continued space exploration so astronauts will be able to access necessary supplies like air, food and water.

Applications on Earth

A more down-to-earth approach to research – both literally and figuratively – focuses on the strong synergies between new solutions for food production in space and on Earth, both in agriculture and in marine industries such as closed containment fish farming and algae cultivation.

“Research on bioproduction systems in space requires advanced control centre operations. This is a key field for us, and we have operational expertise in controlling complex systems from a control centre,” Kittang Jost says.

She said that the CIRiS team wants to make sure that their work helps contribute to the sharing of knowledge and technology between space-based and land-based industries.