The International Space Station (ISS) now has a new doorway to space.
A video (top) posted by NASA on Monday shows the station’s robotic arm — operated by folks at Mission Control in Houston — detaching the Bishop Airlock from the trunk of SpaceX’s recently docked Cargo Dragon capsule and then connecting it to the station’s Tranquility module.
Built by Texas-based Nanoracks, the new bell-jar-shaped airlock is the first permanent, commercial addition to the space station in the orbiting outpost’s 20-year history.
NASA said the new airlock will be used by commercial customers for payload deployments, as well as for moving equipment from one location to another outside the station. It will also be used to jettison trash that accumulates aboard earthlings’ home away from home
The Bishop Airlock is 8 feet in diameter and 7 feet high, weighs more than a ton, and will be robotically detached from Tranquility and reattached each time it’s needed.
Up until now, the station’s only module for sending items into space has been Japan’s Experimental Module Airlock, which was added to the ISS 12 years ago.
With a size five times that of the Japanese airlock, Nanoracks’ module offers new opportunities to carry out a wider range of scientific work using more sizable payloads that can be sent through the doorway into space, while larger payloads can now be brought in more easily, too.
“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 joked in a recent article as a way of explaining some of the advantages of the new module.
Importantly, the agency says the Bishop Airlock will help to speed up the deployment of small satellites and CubeSats from the space station. It will also help to increase the number of research projects undertaken in low-Earth orbit aimed at giving scientists a greater understanding of the space environment, while also helping to advance developments in Earth imaging, medical research, and biomanufacturing.
The Bishop Airlock also gives private companies, academic institutions, public agencies, and even citizens, the chance to carry out their own experiments and research in space.
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