ISS to receive docking upgrades for Commercial Crew program
NASA’s Commercial Crew program will take another step forward as the space agency prepares to install docking equipment on the International Space Station (ISS). A series of three spacewalks will be conducted starting Feb. 20 and concluding on March 1 of this year.
Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts, two NASA astronauts, will perform the spacewalks from the ISS. Their tasks will include installing cables and communications equipment for new docking ports. These new ports will allow future U.S. commercial crew vehicles to dock with the space station. NASA TV will provide live coverage of the spacewalks, which are also referred to as extravehicular activity (EVAs).
This installation is the first phase of the new NASA Docking System (NDS), which as a program endured numerous changes at the Johnson Space Center as the Low Impact Docking System (LIDS) and international Low Impact Docking System (iLIDS) before being largely shifted to Boeing and their Soft Impact Mating and Attenuation Concept (SIMAC) design. The critical design review was completed in 2014, and the system is designed to allow the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, SpaceX’s Dragon v2 and Boeing’s CST-100 to dock at the ISS. The NDS docking mechanism uses low impact technology and is the first system to allow vehicles to both dock and berth at the ISS. It is also capable of transferring power, communications, data and air between the ISS and attached vehicles. Crew and supplies pass through an opening that is 31 inches (80cm) in diameter.
These spacewalks will lay the groundwork for converting the pressurized mating adapters (PMAs) located on the forward and zenith ports of the Harmony module, also called Node 2, from the existing Androgynous Peripheral Attach System-95 (APAS-95) to the NDS. Once the spacewalks have been completed, two International Docking Adapters (IDAs) are scheduled to be launched to the ISS on board SpaceX resupply missions 7 and 9 later this year. Upon arrival, they will be connected to the station, thus completing the conversion from APAS-95 to NDS. APAS-95 has been around for some time, was designed by the Moscow-based company RSC Energia and has been used to dock the space shuttle orbiter and the Functional Cargo Block (Zarya).
The astronauts performing this set of spacewalks are career professionals with NASA. Wilmore was selected by NASA in 2000 as a pilot and has served on two space shuttle missions. STS-129 aboard the space shuttle Atlantis was his first flight and the 31st shuttle flight to the ISS. His second flight was also aboard Atlantis and was the final flight of the space shuttle program, STS-135, for which he served as CAPCOM. He returned to the ISS in September of 2014 on Soyuz TMA-14M as part of the long duration Expedition 41 ISS crew.
Virts also started his career at NASA in 2000. He was the pilot of STS-130, the 24th flight of the space shuttle Endeavor, which was launched on February 8th, 2010, and which brought the Tranquility and Cupola modules to the space station. Virts returned to the ISS on November 23, 2014 aboard Soyuz TMA-15M as part of Expedition 42.
NASA’s current plans have the spacewalks (EVA #29, EVA #30, and EVA #31) scheduled to last approximately 6.5 hours. Each spacewalk will begin at about 7:10 am EST. NASA TV coverage for each walk will begin at 6:00 am EST. The spacewalks are scheduled for Feb. 20, Feb. 24 and March 1.
Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.