Later this year, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will take off from central Florida and carry a large metal cup to attach outside the International Space Station. The hardware is the first commercial airlock designed to bring payloads and other materials into a vacuum space inside a pressurized space station.
Airlock is a product of the aerospace company Nanoracks that helps individual customers gain access to space. To date, the company has created smaller, space-limited hardware, such as standardized research boxes, that customers can use to conduct experiments in the microgravity environment of a space station. It has also developed its own satellite positioning device used to launch small spacecraft into orbit from the ISS or small free-flying spacecraft.
But this commercial airlock, called Bishop, is probably The most ambitious hardware Nanoracks has yet built. A bell jar-shaped metal airlock attaches to an available port on the outside of the ISS, creating a small boulder outside the orbiting lab. A series of clamps and mechanisms on the edge of the port are fixed to the airlock to ensure a sealed condition. The astronaut can then open the hatch in the port and store the item in the airlock.
Mike Lewis, Chief Innovation Officer at Nanoracks, who provided the virtual tour of Bishop, says: “It only takes once and it becomes an additional property until you use it. The Verge. “We can use it in a number of ways, the first of which is to get things out.”
When the payload is mounted inside the bishop, the astronaut closes the hatch in the port and draws air from the airlock through a pump. The robotic arm outside the space station can then grab the Bishop from the outside and remove it from the port, exposing items inside to the vacuum of space. It’s like someone removing a round hat from their head. When the planned activity is complete, the arm can again place an airlock in the port. Here Bishop re-locks and creates another hermetic seal. “It is very similar to a submarine when going out into the sea. The difference is that it goes out into a vacuum in space,” says Lewis.
Currently, the space station has three airlocks. Two allow people to depart from the station, and one is in a Japanese experimental module used to emit payloads into space. To date, Japanese airlocks have been the only way Nanoracks has placed their customers’ satellites in space. Together with Bishop, the company has another option for pulling things out, which is now more than five times the amount of Japanese air locks. This means that much more customers can get into space in a timely manner, and by having only one airlock available for deployment, you can clean up the backlogs created.
One of Airlock’s big goals is to double it as a satellite deployer. Customers can attach the placement box inside Bishop with satellites placed inside. Then, when the airlock’s open side is exposed to space, the deployer launches the satellite and places it in Earth orbit. The things that Bishop shoots have It is also a long-term satellite. NASA has entered into a contract to pack ISS’ trash items in containers. The container is supposed to quickly fall out of orbit and burn in the Earth’s atmosphere. “The good side effect is that it makes a big, beautiful shooting star,” Lewis says.
Bishop can also be used to simply expose an experiment to a vacuum in space. One customer, a Japanese startup called GITAI Test your new robotic arm inside Bishop.. This allows companies to see how the technology is maintained in a vacuum space or in a pressurized environment. Nanoracks also plans to equip airlocks with research payloads to observe parts of the Earth from space. The company included an adapter outside the bishop so that the payload and experiment could be attached to the outside of the airlock. Bishop can also be used to store the tools astronauts need when they go on spacewalk outside the ISS.
The company is currently finishing and final testing the airlock for the purpose of shipping hardware to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the next two weeks. Bishop is currently set to embark on SpaceX’s next cargo mission to the space station, scheduled for mid-November. When the dragon arrives at the ISS, the station’s robotic arm takes the Bishop out of the trunk and attaches it to the final parking spot.
Airlock got its name from the bishop of chess, it is a piece that can move in any direction on the board. The name is meant to reflect the versatility of Bishop and the variety of maneuvers that can be made when attached to the station’s robotic arm. It also nods for future Nanoracks strategy. The company has a daring dream of creating its own free floating space station made from rocket’s recycled fuel tanks. Such a station may also have a similar air lock, and the Bishop may someday move from ISS to one of its facilities.
Currently, Nanoracks is focused on bringing payloads into space as quickly as possible for customers. This is why they created Bishop in the first place. “The best reason to make it commercial without going through a government program is because we wanted it and we wanted it now,” Lewis says. “We knew this was needed both in our customer base and in our future plans.”