The pressure is on. Literally.
Not much stands between the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) and the vacuum of space. You can imagine the pressure we have at Nanoracks to ensure we are keeping the astronauts safe while also installing a brand-new door on the ISS.
That’s right. A brand new, commercially owned and operated door, more formally known as the Nanoracks Bishop Airlock, will be launching to the ISS on SpaceX’s upcoming 21st commercial resupply services (CRS) mission and installed on Node 3, just around the corner from the famous Cupola window. This door will allow projects, research, satellites, tools, and more to move in an out of the space station and will operate both pressurized and unpressurized.
The Bishop Airlock is the first permanent commercial addition to ISS infrastructure. Bishop’s volume is five times larger than the existing, government-operated airlock, and its basic concept provides a blank canvas in which a wide variety of users and customers can leverage the space station. We provide the basic tools of power, data, and operation—the magic comes from our customers.
It was about five years ago when our team first came up with the idea to build an airlock. We said “well, if the airlock on the space station isn’t working for our customers, why don’t we just build our own?”—a very Nanoracks way of thinking. But it worked, and here we are today, excitedly awaiting the upcoming SpaceX CRS-21 launch!
Looking Back, Leaping Forward
Nanoracks was founded in 2009 on the premise of providing affordable, easy access to space—and we have stuck to our roots. To date, we’ve flown more than 1,000 projects to the space station from more than 30 nations around the world. For some, this was the first time anyone in an entire country had flown something to space. To think our tiny organization made a nation spacefaring for the first time in history—it’s is almost too humbling to put into words.
For me, it’s hard to imagine a world without the International Space Station. For 20 years, humans have been living and working in space. Most people in my generation don’t remember a time when humans in space wasn’t the “norm,” and I’d like to keep it that way.
We’re at such a unique time in the span of the space station. It’s lived a wonderful long life, and we expect it to continue to do so for quite some time. But we must be thinking—and acting—on what’s next. My colleagues and I at Nanoracks are passionate about never losing our ground in low Earth orbit. We’re passionate about providing space access to our customers and about making space just another place to do business. We’re passionate about using our unique access to space for good and focusing our long-term efforts on using space to mitigate some of the largest issues we face on Earth, from climate change to food scarcity.
So, what’s next?
Nanoracks sees a future in low Earth orbit where there are smaller, customer-driven, commercially operated space stations, or “outposts” as we call them. We are looking to create these outposts from spent upper stages of launch vehicles. Yes, I know, it sounds kind of crazy!
While launch providers like SpaceX are focused on reusing the first stages of their rockets, we are looking to reuse the second stage once it has completed its primary mission. With a little bit of prep-work on the ground, and a number of new technologies and innovations our team is working on, these upper stages can transform into incredible outposts—both robotic and human-tended. Our first technology demonstration is launching next year. You can learn more here.
We’re at a critical time as a nation where NASA and commercial stakeholders need to work together to come up with a plan for the next 20 years. I’m honored that Nanoracks is an active participant in these discussions, that NASA and the U.S. government are so open to role of the private sector in space exploration, and that each day, more and more people are becoming engaged in the wonders of space thanks to the ISS.
To stick with my theme: The pressure is on.
I may not be able to predict the next 20 years of human space exploration, but I know that thanks to the ISS, our foundation is rock solid. Thanks to the support of NASA and organizations like the ISS U.S. National Laboratory, we’re honored to be a space station a success story, and we look forward to continuing to pave the way for commercial space access for years to come.