NASA has shown off a shiny new piece of hardware that's going to make it easier to bring future gear onboard the International Space Station.
Fresh supplies will be sent up to the orbiting science lab by a SpaceX rocket due to take off on Monday, weather permitting. The largest item in the manifest is the International Docking Adapter, which will be fitted to the space station. The IDA is studded with sensors that feed data to approaching spacecraft so that they can dock automatically without requiring help from inside the habitat.
"It's a passive system which means it doesn’t take any action by the crew to allow docking to happen and I think that's really the key," said David Clemen Boeing's director of development/modifications for the ISS.
The hardware allows any spacecraft that follows the International Docking Standard to mate with the space station safely. The standard, agreed in 2010, could prove vital if an emergency mission is required using the first spaceship available.
"It's really good we have an international standard now that anybody can build against and come dock to the station or to anything that has the same standard," Clemen said.
This IDA is the second NASA has built – the first was on SpaceX's ill-fated CRS-7 mission that suffered a catastrophic failure two minutes after launch. It was a pricy failure: the IDA cost about $100m, so SpaceX and NASA are going to be crossing fingers and toes that this one makes it up to the ISS.
After Monday's launch the Dragon capsule containing the IDA will coast in orbit for two days to match velocity with the ISS and then be captured by one of the station's robot arms for docking. The IDA will be maneuvered out and placed on top of the Harmony module ready for installation later this summer. ®