SpaceX Carrying A Doorway to the Future in Dragon’s Trunk

IDA-2 Being Loaded Credit SpaceX

IDA-2 Being Loaded
Credit SpaceX

After completing a successful static test fire on Saturday morning, SpaceX is ready to begin the countdown in earnest to Sunday evening’s planned launch of its Dragon spacecraft on the CRS-9 mission. And while the robust little spaceship will be loaded with nearly 5,000 lbs of research and support equipment for the orbiting outpost, none may be as important to NASA, or to SpaceX , than the 1,020 lb. International Docking Adapter, or IDA,  which is secured in the Dragon’s trunk.

Often referred to as a name,  rather than the usual NASA acronym, this particular unit is IDA-2, an unfortunate reminder of the fact that IDA-1 was lost during the CRS-7 mission failure on June 28th, 2015.  By any name however, it is an indispensable component of NASA’s immediate plans for crewed spaceflight, which once installed, will allow both Boeing and SpaceX crew vehicles to dock with, rather than be manually berthed to ISS as will happen with the Dragon which is carrying it to space late Sunday evening.

IDA is more than just another piece of hardware. Reflecting a design history which stretches back to the Apollo Soyuz Test Project, it is intended as an open standard system which could be used in operations both in low Earth orbit, as well as in deep space, for many decades to come. This particular unit, and the one just like it which is being assembled in the ISS processing high bay at the Kennedy Space Center is a Boeing product, with the main structure built by Russia’s RSC-Enegia. It is not proprietary however. As LEO opens up for commercial operations in the future, other companies are free to build their own, or to have Boeing do it for them, but it is quite likely that whether they are going to ISS, a Bigelow station or points beyond, astronauts, scientists and tourists alike will be passing through its 800 mm opening as their portal to space.

IDA-3 Being Assembled

IDA-3 Being Assembled

IDA-2 will be unloaded from the Dragon’s trunk using the Canadarm-2 remote manipulator, and then attached to the Station’s Harmony module. A spacewalk later this summer will make the final connections, after which it will wait until sometime in 2017 when SpaceX makes its test flight of the Commercial Crew Dragon. Interestingly, there has been some indication that the company might elect to configure an upcoming Cargo Resupply Dragon to provide an even earlier test of the system.

IDA-3 will fly aboard a later mission, opening up the capability for having both the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner to be docked at the same time. It is the long term implications which may be the most compelling. Once a certain standard is developed, if it is a good one (and sometimes even if it isn’t), it is often amazing to see how long it can last, particularly if enough parties adopt it that it making a change becomes problematic.

Then again, there’s always Betamax.

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