Orbital Laboratory: What is the ISS and How Fast Does the ISS Travel?

Orbital Laboratory

The International Space Station (ISS) has been standing watch on our planet since 1998, but by 2031, this amazing example of man-made tech should be decommissioned. The International Space Station we know today is not the first space station, and of course, it will not be the last. So, what does the ISS do?

Discover everything you need to know about the International Space Station and experiments conducted in this orbital laboratory and learn just how fast does the ISS travel.

What is the ISS and Why Is It Important for Space Exploration?

Today’s International Space Station is a joint effort of collaboration between leading space countries of the world. It was launched on the initiative of the USA, Canada, Russia, Japan, and ESA member states. Crews aboard the ISS represent all of these countries, manning the international station 24/7. The ISS’s primary goal is to expand our knowledge of both the Earth and its surroundings.

To this end, astronauts conduct all sorts of experiments in zero gravity— take pictures of Earth and the changes our home planet of going through, learn how to grow food in microgravity, and study the effects of human body exposure to space conditions. So, the International Space Station is indeed an orbital laboratory located on a huge 400-ton spaceship, which, in turn, consists of several modules— not only research facilities but also residential quarters because many astronauts stay at the ISS for weeks.

But how does such a giant spaceship manage to stay in orbit for so long? Here, a lot depends on maintaining the right International Space Station speed.

How Fast Does the ISS Travel?

The International Space Station’s traveling speed is incredibly high — something rather difficult to imagine here, on Earth. To maintain its orbiting height of 400 km, the International Space Station needs to travel at approximately 28485 km/h! This translates to a literally skyrocketing speed of 7.9 km/s. At such a speed, the International Space Station manages to cover 700 thousand kilometers every single day, which is the distance from Earth to the Moon and back! At the same time, such an enormous distance is roughly 16 orbits around our home planet. This, in turn, means that International Space Station astronauts get to meet the dawn 16 times a day, once with each new orbit. Assuming someone would stay at the ISS for a full year, this person would enjoy sunrise views 5,840 times.

International Space Station

How is the ISS able to travel so fast? 

According to Orbital Today, the International Space Station travels at a carefully calculated speed necessary for this station to maintain its correct orbital height and position. You probably remember that the further we move from our planet, the less gravity affects us. However, the International Space Station’s position is relatively close to home, which is why it needs to maintain a specific speed to create the kind of centrifugal effect that would prevent it from falling down.

When the international orbital station was first launched, it immediately had to be accelerated to a speed of roughly eight km/s to make sure the station kept its orbit. First, the Russian Proton vehicle boosted today’s international station to its 28485 km/h speed, after which this same figure was further maintained by other space shuttles and vehicles.

Also, keep in mind that a giant 400-ton international station was not launched in a single push. Today’s international station consists of several modules, each of which has been docked by manned crews gradually. And, each docking gave the international station another boost, ultimately helping it maintain the necessary speed and position.

Is ISS Speed Constant?

No, because maintaining a constant speed while rotating on an elliptical orbit is physically impossible. Besides, the international station may occasionally need to adjust its orbiting height to avoid collisions with free-floating space debris that could cause potential damage. Still, ISS orbit height is a relatively fixed figure, ranging somewhere between 278 and 460 kilometres above our planet. As a result, ISS speed is also relatively fixed, with minor adjustments whenever necessary.

But does space debris really pose such a big threat to the ISS that it needs to adjust its height? Unfortunately, large pieces of junk can indeed endanger our orbital laboratory, and the International Space Station has had to adjust its position several times already to avoid accidents. A few did occur, though — once, a piece of space junk damaged one of the ISS robotic arms, fortunately, nothing that could not be fixed happened.

Most space debris comes from defunct satellites and their parts, and very few threat-posing pieces are of natural origin — even though they happen once in a while, too. Fortunately, space agencies worldwide are already working on multiple initiatives to clean up human-made space junk. Hopefully, by the time a new International Space Station is launched into orbit after 2031, it will face fewer collisions than our current one.