Space Station International Docking Adapter Undergoes Tests for Starliner and Crew Dragon

Engineers in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, recently tested the mechanisms that will connect future commercial crew spacecraft with the second International Docking Adapter. IDA-2, as it’s called, will be taken to the space station on a future cargo resupply mission. It will be one of two connection points for commercial crew spacecraft visiting the orbiting laboratory. The systems and targets for IDA-2 are set to be put through extensive tests with both Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon before the adapter is loaded for launch. Caption and Credit: NASA/Charles Babir

Engineers in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, recently tested the mechanisms that will connect future commercial crew spacecraft with the second International Docking Adapter. IDA-2, as it’s called, will be taken to the space station on a future cargo resupply mission. It will be one of two connection points for commercial crew spacecraft visiting the orbiting laboratory. The systems and targets for IDA-2 are set to be put through extensive tests with both Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon before the adapter is loaded for launch.
Caption and Credit: NASA/Charles Babir

A manned American spacecraft has not docked with the International Space Station (ISS) in over four years, but that is bound to change. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon are the future spacecraft that will transport NASA astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit (LEO). These private companies are busy developing their spacecraft for future manned missions to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program; meanwhile, engineers are testing the unit responsible for connecting the next generation spacecraft to the orbiting laboratory. Once installed, the International Docking Adapter (IDA) will serve as an entryway to a new future in America’s space program aboard the ISS, and there will be two of these adapters on the ISS to dock visiting spacecraft.

Engineers recently tested the mechanisms that will connect the future Boeing Starliner and Crew Dragon spacecraft to IDA-2, the second IDA, at the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The adapters are built to the International Docking System Standard (IDSS) that establishes “a standard docking interface to enable on-orbit crew rescue operations and joint collaborative endeavors utilizing different spacecraft.” The IDSS features systems that are built in for automated docking and uniform measurements. This allows a variety of spacecraft (commercial and international) to use the adapters in the future.

The second International Docking Adapter, or IDA-2, will launch to the International Space Station on a future cargo resupply mission. The adapter was built to the specifications of the International Docking Standards, and it will be a connection point for commercial crew spacecraft visiting the orbiting laboratory. Credits: NASA/Cory Huston

The second International Docking Adapter, or IDA-2, will launch to the International Space Station on a future cargo resupply mission. The adapter was built to the specifications of the International Docking Standards, and it will be a connection point for commercial crew spacecraft visiting the orbiting laboratory. Credits: NASA/Cory Huston

The first docking adapter, IDA-1, was lost with the SpaceX CRS-7 Dragon cargo ship failure in June 2015, when 44,000 pounds of cargo heading to the ISS was lost 139 seconds after launch. IDA-2 is expected to go up to the ISS on CRS-9, originally targeted for December 2015, with a present target date of no earlier than (NET) January 2016. Astronauts on the ISS have been preparing for the IDA’s since early 2015 when Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts, part of the Expedition 42 crew, participated in a six hour and 41 minute Extravehicular Activity (EVA) to lay and configure cables for the future arrival of the IDA’s. Relocation of the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) on May 27 was one of the first steps taken to reconfigure the U.S. Orbital Segment (USOS) for Commercial Crew vehicles. The loss of IDA-1 impacted future operations to reconfigure the USOS for Commercial Crew.

According to a previous AmericaSpace article, “IDA-1 would have been robotically removed from Dragon’s truck and ‘temp-stowed’ on the Dextre Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator (SPDM) of the 57.7-foot-long (17.6-meter) Canadarm2 robotic arm, before being installed onto the [PMA-2] at the forward end of the Harmony node during an EVA by Kelly (EV1) and Lindgren (EV2) on 17 August.” IDA-1 was the primary adapter SpaceX and Boeing would have used to dock to the ISS from mid-2017 and into the future. IDA-2 was to serve as a back-up docking interface mounted on PMA-3 at the Zenith port of the Harmony module.

Both of the IDA’s will be connected to the Harmony module and placed on each of the station’s two open Pressurized Mating Adapters (PMA). As each one arrives on a Dragon cargo vehicle, the robotic arm on the station will remove the IDA from Dragon’s trunk and move it about one foot (30 cm) from the front of the PMA for astronauts to manually connect using tethers during an EVA.

Both of the IDA’s are identical, so IDA-2 will now serve as the primary docking adapter instead of IDA-1. A replacement unit, IDA-3, will be completed and launched at a later date. In a previous AmericaSpace article, NASA’s Rob Navias told AmericaSpace that IDA-3 will be built from spare parts and there is no current timetable on when it might be ready.

Boeing served as the Lead Integration Contractor on the IDA’s with parts assembled from various companies across 25 states. Each of the IDAs measure 42-inches tall and 63-inches wide and constructed by national and international teams. RSC-Energia is the Russian company responsible for making the primary structures of the IDAs. Systems arranged around the outside of the IDA’s, such as docking targets and laser retro-reflectors, gives the IDA’s an outer diameter of approximately 94 inches. IDA-2 will go through in-depth testing with both the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft before the adapter is readied for launch.

According to NASA, “the systems and targets for the IDA are much more sophisticated than previous docking systems and include lasers and sensors that allow the station and spacecraft to talk to each other digitally to share distance cues and enable automatic alignment and connection.”

The IDAs are not only a key element for Commercial Crew, but also a key element for future collaborative exploration aboard the ISS. The need for the International Docking System Standard was outlined by NASA in 2011. It was noted that the “expansion of spacefaring nations (and non-governmental entities) will compound this issue in the future. Exploration cooperation could be much easier with internationally accepted interface standards.” The IDSS also enables low impact technology to accommodate a wide range of vehicle contact and capture conditions.

NASA’s Senior Project Manager for Relocation & IDA, Sean Kelly, spoke out about the significance of the IDA in February 2015:

IDA 2 inside the Space Station Processing Facility in June 2015. Photo Credit: Talia Landman / AmericaSpace

IDA 2 inside the Space Station Processing Facility in June 2015. Photo Credit: Talia Landman / AmericaSpace

“The International Docking Adapter is actually the first implementation of our International Docking System Standard. We’ve developed that over the last few years with all of our International Partners, so it’s really the first standard that we have in the spaceflight business and, as such, we wanted to lead the way and NASA established an effort to develop the International Docking Adapter. We tried tot put the emphasis on ‘international’, because although it’s in the critical path for Commercial Crew, it’s also a key element for what we plan for other international partners to come visit Space Station and start utilizing it in the future.”

Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle, NASA shifted its focus from working and living in low-Earth orbit to the Journey to Mars. This change opened up a new realm of opportunities for the commercial space industry when NASA called to the private sector to provide transportation to the International Space Station (ISS). The Commercial Crew and Cargo Program allows NASA to keep astronauts working in LEO while the agency focuses on building the infrastructure to take humans to deep space.

The integration of the IDAs to the ISS will be a significant milestone as NASA transitions from Space Shuttle to Commercial Crew. Although the United States is not back to launching humans just yet, the necessary preparations to get them flying from American soil are taking place on Earth and above our heads.

 

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10 comments to Space Station International Docking Adapter Undergoes Tests for Starliner and Crew Dragon

  • […] Space Station International Docking Adapter Undergoes Tests for Starliner and Crew Dragon. IDA-2 (IDA-1 was lost on CRS-7) will be carried on CRS-9 with a projected launch no earlier than Jan 2016. […]

  • Colorado

    Seriously doubt the “crew dragon” will ever carry a human being. NASA is a ship of fools if they fly people a second time on a vehicle that blew up. Good luck Boeing- it’s all yours now.

    • john hare

      You mean like using the 1960s Atlas for manned flight after the numerous failures in development. Or do you mean like using the Shuttle after Challenger or Columbia? NASA has some history of working with what they have instead of some mythical perfect solution.

      • Colorado

        No, I don’t mean like the 1960’s, I mean like the 21st century. “Working with what they have”? They don’t have anything in case you haven’t noticed.

  • John hare

    They have three potential crew transports. That’s not nothing.

    • Joe

      The “Commercial” Crew Program currently includes two Crew vehicles under development:
      (1) CST-100 (Boeing).
      (2) Dragon (crew version – SpaceX).

      These two vehicles have one booster each (total of two):
      (1) Atlas 5 (CST-100) which is dependent on Russian engines.
      (2) Falcon 9 (Crewed Dragon) which is currently grounded due to the CRS-7 explosion.

      • John hare

        You don’t consider Orion a potential manned vehicle?

        • Joe

          The subject was delivery of crew to LEO, specifically the ISS.

          Since (after the cancellation of Constellation Systems) the Obama Administration specifically precluded the use of Orion from that activity, I – sadly – did not (and do not) consider it to be part of this discussion

          • Colorado

            The ISS is in my opinion the last “big” LEO station. I did not call it a “space” station because I and a few others do not consider LEO to be space- and it is not that big. “Big” would have been using the Shuttle external tanks as wet workshops instead of letting them burn up. Wasting most of the lift of a Saturn V class vehicle on wings and landing gear and also letting the largest and most useful part of the system fall in the ocean…we take all that for granted now it seems.

            The Chinese may orbit a few cans to test hardware but LEO is a dead end and it is a testament to the stupidity of using HSF as a political football that it has taken close to half a century to figure this out.

            The next big project is NOT going to be a Mars mission. Those in the know are fully aware the permanent damage such a mission would do to the astronauts makes it a non-starter. Good P.R. though. The next hi-dollar item on the agenda is a new lunar lander. I suspect it is going to be as big as the SLS can put up there in one piece. It will float around in LEO fully fueled (hypergolics)waiting for months for the EDS to be sent up and send it into lunar orbit- to then wait a couple more months for the astronauts to arrive on another mission.

            My guess is the 70 metric ton lunar lander is going to come up as a tentative “Mars lander” fairly soon. Except it will never land on Mars. It is going to the Moon.

  • […] U.S. EVA-35 spacewalkers to complete required electrical, power, and data connections. In so doing, IDA-2 will provide the primary interface for Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon commerc…, when they enter service in 2017. A replacement for IDA-2, known as “IDA-3,” is under […]