NanoRacks Eyes Private Airlock on Space Station

nano_racks_logoNanoRacks is proposing to spend $12 to $15 million on a private airlock that would allow it to launch more satellites off the International Space Station.

NASA is interested, and it may give NanoRacks approval to proceed with developing the airlock as soon as next month. The agency and its primary station contractor, Boeing, are conducting a formal assessment to see if the airlock can be safely integrated into the station. “We’ve very intrigued by it, and we haven’t found any showstoppers so far,” Mike Read, manager of the space station National Lab Office at Johnson Space Center, told Ars.

If approved by NASA, the airlock, which NanoRacks has dubbed the “Doorway to Space,” could launch as early as 2018 inside the trunk of a SpaceX Dragon capsule. The company says it could use the airlock as many as 12 times a year.

NanoRacks is proposing to build a large, half-cylinder-shaped airlock about two meters in diameter and 1.8 meters long. The airlock would attach to the end of the station’s Node 3 module, near the cupola. It would connect via a common berthing mechanism, or CBM, and then be pressurized. After pressurization, the hatch could be opened and the airlock configured for various tasks.

For commercial opportunities, NanoRacks has a small satellite launcher, and it is also designing a “haybale” system to launch as many as 192 cubesats at a time. After the airlock is configured, it would be depressurized and sealed. Then a station robotic arm could grab it, move it away from the vehicle, and deploy its payloads.

NASA is also interested in the opportunity to potentially fix large, external components of the space station….With a larger airlock, damaged components could be brought inside the station, assessed, and possibly fixed, saving NASA the expense of building and delivering a new unit to the station—or losing a valuable spare. Finally, the space agency could use the airlock to dispose of trash that accumulates on station and can be difficult to get rid of.

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