What are the main parts of any space station?

I have been making a 3D model of a hypothetical space station, and I'd like to ask if it is possible to identify some main components and/or subsystems of a generalized space station.

A good way to address this might be to mention those that have appeared in most or all of the US, Soviet and Chinese stations.

An obvious one would be solar panels to power the stations, but for example, systems to maintain habitability are going to be present in all stations.

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    $\begingroup$ Is it what parts are needed for a functional space station, or something like that? $\endgroup$
    – Aaron
    Aug 29, 2019 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ I've edited your question a bit to help it better fit the Stack Exchange style. I think it's a great question and deserves some good answers. Welcome to Space! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 29, 2019 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ This might be a good question for worldbuilding.stackexchange.com - our site for advise on designing plausible fictional scenarios. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Aug 30, 2019 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh Thank you very much $\endgroup$
    – DimaNafez
    Aug 30, 2019 at 19:18

3 Answers 3


This question is far too broad to be answerable with enough detail, and it depends on whether you mean the absolute bare minimum or whether you mean "to perform a particular function". Let's assume it's the bare minimum, which I will assume to mean "people can go there in their own spacecraft, stay for a while, and then leave, all safely".

This answer will be unsatisfying, since it will be very general and ignore many important aspects of the realities of space station design.

We can look at this generally. First, it requires some kind of habitable space, a module that the crew can live in. It requires life support, which at a basic level means temperature control and air. It requires electricity to run all of these things. It also needs docking port(s), where the visiting spacecraft can come and connect*. This docking port needs to have a way to transfer crew and supplies.

Assuming that the supplies (like food, air, water) are stored in the habitation module, and said module has the sleeping/eating/living/toilet spaces all in one, then at a very high level that's all you need.

Unfortunately, this isn't really sufficient - it glosses over decades of design iteration. How thick are the walls? What are they made of? Are there windows? (do there have to be?)

It also ignores things like how food is prepared - is it all protein bars or do the astronauts need to cook? How does plumbing work?

*OK, strictly speaking a visiting spacecraft doesn't need to dock if the astronauts are willing to...jump? However, no space station ever made lacked docking ports.

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    $\begingroup$ Adding on to this, there is importance in how much space is needed on the interior for crew comfort $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2019 at 7:31

Here's a list of the main components of the ISS (source).

  • Zarya
  • Unity Module
  • Zvezda
  • Desinty Laboratory Module
  • Harmony Module
  • Columbus Orbital Facility
  • Japanese Experiment Module
  • Truss and Solar Panels

However that's the ISS, in general, space stations have these components.

  • Docking ports
  • Habitat Module (Living quarters. (Sleep, eat, exercise, hygiene)
  • Laboratory (where they do science)
  • Cupola (ISS has this. Where astronauts look at the Earth)
  • Robotic Arms (such as CanadArm)
  • Airlocks
  • Cargo
  • Waste facility (store human waste)
  • Solar panels, trusses, Heat radiators
  • Radio antennas for communication

Here's a diagram of the ISS and all its modules and various other components (source):

enter image description here


Required even for short stays by humans:

  • one or more pressurized compartment for the astronauts to work and live inside. This are often cylindrical modules that attach together to form the mechanical structure of the station.
  • solar panels for electrical power
  • thermal radiators to get rid of heat produced inside the station
  • carbon dioxide removal from air
  • oxygen storage to maintain breathable atmosphere pressure against leakage
  • radio communications system to keep in contact with Earth
  • propulsion for orbit-raising, since stations tend to be in low orbits and have high drag/weight ratios
  • attitude control systems based on gyroscopes and thrusters, getting data from inertial sensors and possibly star cameras, will also require at least a modest attitude control computer
  • docking system to allow astronauts to enter and exit the station from docked vehicles, and to allow those vehicles to safely dock.

For longer stays:

  • water recovery from urine
  • waste ejection system (human waste, other) implementation varies
  • exercise equipment


  • airlock and space suit replenishment facilities to allow outside access.

  • computer systems for experiments or other activities and station systems in place

  • cameras and/or windows

  • robotic arms to manipulate outside objects and astronauts

  • $\begingroup$ I've done my best, but I'm no expert so I've made this a community wiki. Please feel free to adjust, correct, improve... $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 29, 2019 at 23:38
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    $\begingroup$ Might want to say if you're not having EVA capabilities you may want a robo-arm or something because if damage occurs on the outside you're SOL without EVA capabilities robotic or not. Also windows, viewing ports, living chambers, exercise stations, not everything has to be "functional" towards to operation of the station-- it may be functional to those onboard. $\endgroup$ Aug 30, 2019 at 17:27

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