Space gets a true universal dock


Computing has the USB cable. Analog audio visual equipment (in Europe at least) has the SCART lead. High definition has the HDMI cable. And now the International Space Station has its own standard plug/socket combo.

Five international space agencies have agreed a standard for the docking system used when spacecrafts dock in space stations. While there may still be international competition when it comes to space missions, those involved say the move was necessary to allow “emerging international cooperative space missions.”

The agencies also noted that the standard will mean it’s now possible to embark on international crew rescue missions if needed. You can see their point: if you’re stuck on a space station, you don’t exactly want to be turning a “foreign” rescue craft away because it won’t dock without one hell of a roll of duct tape to hold it in place.

The standard is the work of the International Space Station Multilateral Coordination Board, which is made up of representatives from space agencies in Russia, Japan, Canada, Europe as a whole, and NASA.

As part of the agreement, agencies will continue to be allowed to design spacecraft however they see fit, as long as the docking system is compatible with the standard.

Docking system compatibility is slightly more complicated in space than on Earth. For example, when you push a USB plug into a computer socket, it slots in relatively easily because the computer is too heavy to be pushed out of position. In a zero-gravity situation, objects can easily move continuously in any of the three dimensions; there’s also no friction to hold them in place.

The international standard also confirms the “androgynous” design as official. That’s a reference to the usual design of socketry as either male or female (think of plugs and sockets in terms of human gender differences if you don’t get the reference.) The standard — which stems from a compromise introduced in the early 1970s between Russian and American designs — means that both docks contain raised “petals” that slot together a little like the grooves of a screw-cap lid and the neck of a plastic bottle.





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7 Responses to Space gets a true universal dock

  1. Oh good, now they are talking. I think this is in anticipation for the upcoming tourist space station. Different companies may be compelled to build their own spacecraft and with this concept, at least docking on a space station will pose no problem.

  2. I dont think it's accurate to say that there's 'no friction.' There's no friction in the traditional sense of placing an object on a surface and friction keeping it from moving around due to gravity's vertical pull. But friction still exists without gravity (even though there is 'gravity' at the ISS) between two objects or something as simple as a latch wouldn't work.

  3. "you don’t exactly want to be turning a “foreign” rescue craft away because it won’t dock without one hell of a roll of duct tape to hold it in place."

    Because they're just flying around out there like Futurama? How many launches are there a year? I figured it was just so to increase efficiency and the chance to co-operate on the space station itself.

  4. “you don’t exactly want to be turning a “foreign” rescue craft away because it won’t dock without one hell of a roll of duct tape to hold it in place.”

    Because they’re just flying around out there like Futurama? How many launches are there a year? I figured it was just so to increase efficiency and the chance to co-operate on the space station itself.