For the last 20 years, the airlocks aboard the ISS have worked without issue. However, additional researchers and companies want to expand the scope and size of projects sent to the ISS for experiments, meaning a larger door is needed. A company called Nanoracks LLC, headquartered in Webster, Texas, received support from NASA to build a different kind of entryway to the space station.
The Nanoracks Bishop Airlock Module will help move larger payloads in and out of the station. NASA says that Bishop will increase the amount of research done in low-Earth orbit and eliminate a bottleneck that slows down deployment of new small satellites and CubeSats. The new airlock will be delivered via a SpaceX Dragon capsule on the 21st commercial resupply mission for NASA.
It will be the first commercial airlock added to the ISS and will attach to a port on US Node 3, known as Tranquility. Adding an airlock as part of the strategy, NASA has to provide more opportunities for the US industry to achieve a sustainable economy and low Earth orbit. By creating a sustainable economy, NASA would be one of many customers for the ISS. NASA could then focus government resources on deep space exploration for the Artemis program with commercial support from the industry.
Under the Space Act Agreement, Naboracks provided the initial investment and the new module’s physical structure. NASA will provide power and space-to-ground communication, as well as astronauts to handle cargo and operate experiments.
Once the door is operational, it will benefit NASA and other agencies and companies that use the space station. Bishop will provide five times the capacity of the only other operational airlock used to send things outside the space station. JAXA provided the current airlock module. The new bell jar-shaped airlock has multiple rows of standardized tracks for mounting automated modules and other components for experiments, along with electrical and data connections to run and monitor them. It will also have six external mounting locations and a Wi-Fi antenna to transmit data.