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The ISS is about to receive a new doorway to space

Nanoracks Bishop Airlock Module - Concept of Operations

The International Space Station (ISS) is about to take delivery of what NASA describes as a new “doorway to space.”

The Bishop Airlock Module, that’s its official name, was built by Texas-based Nanoracks and will arrive at the space station early next month as part of SpaceX’s next supply mission. Astronauts currently serving as the station’s Expedition 64 crew will then fit the module to an available port.

Nanoracks’ Bishop Airlock Module is special in that it’ll be the first permanent, commercial addition to the space station. Also, with a height of 1.8 meters and a diameter of 2 meters, it’ll offer fives times the volume that can currently be moved in and out of the orbiting laboratory.

A new doorway to space is coming to the @Space_Station! ????✨

Launching on the 21st commercial resupply mission, @Nanoracks #BishopAirlock Module will allow more researchers and companies to move larger payloads inside and outside the station. Learn more:

— NASA's Kennedy Space Center (@NASAKennedy) November 25, 2020

Japan provides the only other airlock on the station used for sending equipment into space. The Japanese Experimental Module Airlock was added in 2008, but the larger Nanoracks module paves the way for a greater variety of scientific work involving bigger payloads that can be sent through the doorway into space, while larger payloads will be able to be more easily brought in as well.

“Anyone who has gotten a sofa stuck in a doorway on moving day knows how frustrating it is when there’s no other way in or out,” NASA quipped in an article about the Bishop Airlock Module.

On a more serious note, the agency says the new module will help to alleviate “a bottleneck slowing down the deployment of new small satellites and CubeSats from the space station. Bishop will also significantly increase the amount of research that can be done in low-Earth orbit — research that helps us better understand the space environment but also has implications for Earth imaging, medical research, and biomanufacturing.”

It added: “Once operational, the new door will mean more access for NASA and everyone else — private companies, academic institutions, public agencies, even citizens.”

While Nanoracks came up with the module’s initial investment and the physical structure, NASA will provide necessities such as power, space-to-ground communications, and astronauts to deal with cargo and carry out experiments.

As we look forward to seeing how the module will be used by private companies and researchers, NASA notes that the space agency itself has already booked multiple slots for use of the airlock for more banal activities, namely the disposal of larger pieces of trash that will later burn up on entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

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Trevor Mogg
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