By the end of next year SpaceX and Boeing could be shuttling U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
As things stand Russia is the only nation that can carry astronauts to the ISS, but SpaceX and Boeing may soon break that monopoly. NASA is reportedly working on a parking spot for its commercial partners which will be able to receive spacecraft.
Astronauts to prepare ISS for SpaceX and Boeing spacecraft
The first of two Inernational Docking Adapters will be installed this Friday by astronauts Kate Rubins and Jeff Williams. The pair will undertake a 6.5 hour spacewalk in order to prepare the space station for the arrival of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliners and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsules.
Alongside Rubins and Williams will be the Canadarm 2 robotic arm, working to take out a docking adapter from the SpaceX Dragon resupply capsule. Spacewalks are far from a breezy affair, with every last detail planned to the minute.
To get an idea of what a spacewalk entails, take a look at the teaser trailer that NASA has released related to the August 19 event. The fact that the trailer runs to 8 minutes should give you an idea of the complications.
NASA working to regain U.S. autonomy in space
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program was formed in 2012 and is part of a long-term plan to regain U.S. autonomy in space. SpaceX and Boeing have benefited hugely from the scheme, receiving more than $3 billion in NASA funding for the development of astronaut transport systems.
As it stands U.S. astronauts have to effectively thumb a lift with Russian missions, which blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan. However both SpaceX and Boeing have made great progress with their systems, which are expected to take their first astronauts to the ISS in 2017.
The spacewalk will see Rubins and Williams connect the adaptor to its port, a job made easier by the fact that the necessary cables have been positioned by astronauts on four previous spacewalks. Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency will also be on hand to provide assistance, staying inside the ISS to manage a control panel that will help the astronauts in their task.
“There’s a very coordinated interplay between the external crew outside, Tak on the outside, and the ground doing the commanding,” said Zeb Scoville, the spacewalk flight director, during a NASA briefing.
Astronauts hoping spacewalk is completed without issues
Williams will be heading out on his fourth spacewalk after making his first trip to space in 2000. Rubins is setting off on her first spacewalk after years of ground training for this particular mission. Neither astronaut will have any food for the entire 6.5 hour spacewalk, although they will be able to drink some water.
The spacewalk will be the first carried out by NASA since January, when astronauts Tim Kopra and Tim Peake made some repairs to electrical systems on the ISS. That walk was ended two hours ahead of schedule after Kopra noticed a water bubble inside his helmet.
There were worries that the same problem could arise this time out, but NASA believes it has identified the source of the issue. The space agency has taken all of the necessary precautions to ensure that the same thing does not happen again this Friday.
Tune in to NASA TV from 8.05 am EDT this Friday to watch the spacewalk.