NanoRacks, Boeing partnering on ISS airlock with spinoff potential

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SAN FRANCISCO — NanoRacks announced plans Feb. 6 to work with Boeing on a commercial airlock designed to satisfy growing demand by companies seeking to launch cubesats and small satellites from the International Space station.

Boeing plans to fabricate and install the airlock’s Passive Common Berthing Mechanism, the doorway satellites pass through as they move from the pressurized environment of the ISS into space. NanoRacks and Boeing are designing the new airlock to be used on the ISS and then moved to a future commercial space platform, Jeff Manber, NanoRacks chief executive, told SpaceNews.

“This partnership is an important step in the commercial transition we’ll see on the ISS in the coming years,” Mark Mulqueen, Boeing ISS program manager, said in a statement.

Who’s doing what
NanoRacks engineers plan to design, develop, assemble, integrate and test the new airlock. In addition to manufacturing the PCBM, Boeing will provide NanoRacks with engineering services related to its development and manufacturing, while ATA Engineering of San Diego, California, will provide structural and thermal analysis, testing and support services, according to the announcement.

NanoRacks signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA in May to install the private airlock on the U.S. portion of the ISS. NanoRacks estimates that the airlock will be ready for launch in 2019.

The new airlock is designed to accommodate customers who want to deploy satellites from the ISS that are too large for the current access route, Japan’s Kibo Airlock.

Once the new airlock is installed, ISS astronauts also will be able to assemble payloads in orbit with component parts sent the station in cargo transfer bags, the statement said.