On Friday, NASA astronauts will install a new gateway or International Docking Adapter for American commercial crew spacecraft at the International Space Station.
The adapter represents the first on-orbit piece of the space station built to internationally standardised docking measurements and is fitted with a host of sensors and systems that are expected to make the docking procedure much easier.
In particular, the adapter has been constructed to automatically perform all the rendezvous steps and dock with the station without input from astronauts, although there will be manual backup systems in place should the need arise.
The adapter is essentially a ring with an internal diameter of 160 centimetres and an overall diameter of 240 centimetres. It was launched on a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft and arrived at the station on 20 July.
The first users of the adapter are expected to be Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Dragon crafts, but due to the international standards of the adapter it will be available to all future spacecraft.
The installation will be conducted during a spacewalk by Expedition 48 commander Jeff Williams and flight engineer Kate Rubins of NASA. The two astronauts will venture outside the space station’s Quest airlock to install the adapter onto Pressurised Mating Adapter-2 (the docking port), which is positioned on the front of the Harmony module.
The installation of the adapter represents a significant step in NASA’s endeavour to return crew launches to US soil.
This will consequently increase the time US crews can dedicate to scientific research helping prepare astronauts for deep space missions such as the journey to Mars.
Coverage of the spacewalk will start at 10.30am UTC (6.30am EDT, 8.30pm AEST), with the walk scheduled to begin 95 minutes in. You can watch on NASA TV below: