As I’m writing this article, two American astronauts on the International Space Station are preparing to embark on a spacewalk in order to install a new docking port for future spaceship traffic. This move is in preparation for the increasing visits of private spacecraft to the ISS.
The two astronauts that will undertake the task of attaching the docking port are Kate Rubins and Jeff Williams. The docking adaptor was delivered to the ISS by a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship last month. This new port will be the first of the two future additions to the space station, with the second one is expected to be shipped in 2018.
For NASA, the installation of the docking port represents ‘a metaphorical gateway to a future’ that will allow an entirely new generation of US spaceships to deliver astronauts to the ISS. Kenneth Todd, the ISS operations manager, called the installation an essential aspect of establishing the commercial use of the space station.
The docking port was built by Boeing, and it measures around 42 inches tall and almost 63 inches wide. After it is installed, the port will be able to dock both Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. Both of these spaceships are currently under construction but are planned to deliver astronauts from Earth to the ISS in coming years. One of the novelty elements of the docking adaptor is that it will allow spaceships to park automatically instead of using the current grapple and berthing system controlled by the space station crew. It also comes equipped with fitting that enables the ISS to share data and even power with the spaceships.
The astronauts are set to emerge from the space station at 8:05 am (1205 GMT). Williams is a veteran NASA astronaut with three previous spacewalks under his belt, while for flight engineer Rubins this outing will mark her first venture outside the ISS.
NASA has announced plans for a second spacewalk on September 1 for a different type of operation. Astronauts need to retract one of the thermal radiators outside the ISS as they unsuccessfully tried to push it back into position last year.
What do you think about the future commercial use of the ISS?
Image source: Wikimedia