Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dock Me, Baby


Rock me, baby... Dock Me, Baby... and now that I've dated myself even by knowing that song, we'll skip any further puns and just get to the point.

Now, anyone and everyone can dock at the International Space Station! According to breaking news on numerous space outlets yesterday, the International Space Station Multilateral Coordination Board (MCB) has approved a "docking system standard" to provide instructions for a mating interface.

So says the NASA press release: "The MCB consists of senior representatives from NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency; the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Science & Technology assisted by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; the European Space Agency; and the Canadian Space Agency. The MCB is the space station's senior level management board. It coordinates the orbiting laboratory's operations and activities among the partners."

ISS Docking
Their new official website at invites readers to download the document detailing the International Docking System Standard (IDSS), which the MCB says will allow "non-partner agencies and commercial developers" to provide feedback on the physical features and design loads.

From what I can see on the many space forums I lurk about or comment upon myself, engineers everywhere and of many nationalities are already abuzz with praise and criticism of all kinds... and already debating furiously who will perfect the soft capture or hard capture mating system (or who already has them).

In general, most are in favor of standardization, given the new era of cooperation. But, as ever with humans, agencies and nations, the devil emerges in the details. While the MCB added the mild disclaimer that "technical teams from the five space station partner agencies continue to work on additional refinements and revisions to the initial standard," many already accuse the coalition of "imposing" a standard that is already lower quality than some nations have developed on their own.

MCB maintains the effort is only to "ensure commonality" without dictating any particular design – but many say the design the Russians have used for forty years is already ahead of these general specs.

ISS Dock
One commenter warm-fuzzied that "The creation of international standards is a step forward in reducing costs and increasing reliability of space systems from everyone," and I'd like for that to be true in the future. Less enlightened remarks push back time by suggesting: "What ever happened to America just making stuff that worked and if the world wanted to copy us, let them."

Well, this isn't 1969 anymore, and 26 other space agencies happened.

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