Eu­rope's link to the ISS

The Colum­bus Con­trol Cen­tre

The Columbus Control Centre (Col-CC) is part of the German Space Operations Center (GSOC) at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) site in Oberpfaffenhofen. It is operated as part of the Integrated Team@Col-CC programme in conjunction with the European Space Agency (ESA). Approximately 75 people oversee European activities on board the International Space Station ISS from here.

The Control Centre's activities include:

  • Supervision and control of the experiments conducted in the Columbus Laboratory
  • Planning and coordinating of scientific experiments
  • Supporting astronauts during their work in the European laboratory
  • Monitoring and operating life support systems such as air supply, power and cooling
  • Providing communications channels between the ISS, ground stations and control and user centres
  • Reception, processing, distribution and evaluation of data
  • Training of operating staff and conducting simulations
  • Operating the ColKa terminal for direct communication with the EDRS and European ground stations

Spaceflight experts from DLR, ESA and European industry work side by side in the Col-CC. They plan the experiments in the Columbus laboratory and coordinate them with the control and user centres and the astronauts on the Space Station.

The Col-CC team is in constant contact with the NASA Payload Operations Center in Huntsville, USA, and the ISS mission control centres at NASA in Houston, Roscosmos in Moscow and JAXA in Tsukuba, near Tokyo. In addition, Col-CC communicates with ESA Operations Management at the ESTEC Test Centre and with the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, which is responsible for the medical care and safety of ESA astronauts on the ISS. The German ISS-oriented Microgravity User Support Center (MUSC) and the technical support centres for industry partners involved with Columbus are also integrated into Col-CC communications.

The Flight Control Team works in shifts around the clock in the Col-CC control rooms. It is responsible for preparations for operation and tasks such as control room documentation, control room configuration and validation of procedures. The Flight Control Team receives support from the Ground Control Team, which takes care of the complex infrastructure on the ground, monitoring and maintaining a Europe-wide ground network with many different components. Both teams report to a Flight Director who leads the teams and has ultimate responsibility and decision-making authority for the Columbus module.

Looking back – it all began with the Spacelab

In 2002, ESA commissioned DLR to establish the Columbus Control Centre. For this task, DLR was able to draw upon its many years of operational experience and expertise in the implementation of space missions. Indeed, the German Space Operations Center at DLR's site in Oberpfaffenhofen, around 25 kilometres southwest of Munich, has made a name for itself over the past five decades with 14 crewed and more than 40 automated scientific and commercial missions. Highlights include the German Spacelab missions D1 and D2 with the US Space Shuttle and flights by German cosmonauts to the Russian space station Mir and the experiments that they conducted there.

Col-CC was inaugurated on 19 October 2004 and was involved in a mission for the first time during Italian ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori's flight to the ISS in April 2005. The Columbus Control Centre also undertook key tasks during the long-term spaceflight of German ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter in 2006 as part of the Astrolab mission. A special milestone for the Col-CC team was Space Shuttle Mission 122 in February 2008 – the transport of the Columbus module to the ISS and its installation on Node 2 (Harmony) by Hans Schlegel. After that, Col-CC was involved in both of Alexander Gerst's missions, 'Blue Dot' (2014) and 'horizons' (2018) and is set to play an important role in Matthias Maurer's 'Cosmic Kiss' mission in 2021/2022.

From 2008 to 2015, the Columbus Control Centre was also involved in the flights of the uncrewed European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) to the ISS. Among other things, this supplied the Space Station with food, water, propellants and oxygen, and brought scientific experiments to the ISS. The Columbus Control Centre provided the communications infrastructure between the control centres in Toulouse, Houston and Moscow during the entire operation of the ATV in orbit.

Background article


Elke Heinemann

Digital Communications
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Linder Höhe, 51147 Cologne
Tel: +49 2203 601-1852