International Space Station Partners Release Major Update to Docking Standard

The International Space Station Multilateral Coordination Board (MCB) has approved a major update to the station docking system standard. First released in 2010, the docking standard established a common station-to-spacecraft equipment interface to enable spacecraft of multiple types to dock to the space station.

“The latest additions to the docking standard further open the door for contributions by international agencies, as well as commercial enterprises for the International Space Station and exploration,” said William Gerstenmaier, MCB chair and NASA’s associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “We have already seen benefits of this standard, creating the opportunity to develop additional standards for spacecraft design. The International Docking Adapters that will soon be installed on the space station are fully compatible with the docking standard, which means that any spacecraft can use the adapters in the future – from new commercial spacecraft to other international spacecraft yet to be designed.”

Credit: NASA/Charles Babir

The second International Docking Adapter, 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 will be a connection point for commercial crew spacecraft visiting the orbiting laboratory.
The update more than doubles the content in the guidelines, which enable in-orbit crew rescue by a range of spacecraft types and international collaborative exploration with future spacecraft — from crewed to autonomous vehicles, and low-Earth orbit to deep-space missions. Limited to describing physical features and design parameters of a standard docking interface, the docking standards help ensure a common interface without dictating a particular design.With this revision, the standard now includes a full range of rendezvous operations, with information on passive rendezvous targets used by spacecraft to locate the space station and lock on for approach. The addition of content related to rendezvous operations will provide the greatest possible access to information for active rendezvous sensor developers, while providing full compatibility for all current rendezvous sensor technologies.

The space station’s senior level management board, the MCB includes senior representatives from NASA; the Russian Federal Space Agency; the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, assisted by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; ESA (European Space Agency); and the Canadian Space Agency. This group coordinates the orbiting laboratory’s operations and activities among the partners.

The Multilateral Coordination Board released the document to allow non-partner agencies and commercial developers to review the new standard and provide feedback. Technical teams from the five space station partner agencies will continue to work on additional refinements and revisions to the standard.

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