This will be the first major reconfiguration of the International Space Station since it’s completion in 2011. The reason? To accommodate two commercial players in the space business: Boeing and SpaceX.
After the completion of the ISS, NASA shut down its space shuttle program in 2011 and has since been working with Russia to ferry American astronauts to space. The overhaul, which is expected to finish towards the end of this year, will allow Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon capsules to dock easily to the space station, giving American commercial interests a leg-up.
Once the reconfiguration is complete, NASA can ease its reliance on Russia and the flights will be cheaper to boot. They currently cost just over $70 million per person, but Boeing and SpaceX has given quotes of $58 million to transfer astronauts to and from the ISS. In addition, the new flights will be able to carry four members, which will increase the stations permanent crew from six to seven.
The work itself is just about to start on Friday with a spacewalk by station commander Barry Wilmore and flight engineer Terry Virts. The two will taking a total of three outings between Friday and March 1st to prepare communications gear and the necessary cables to ensure the project will begin smoothly.
The largest change will be moving the Leonardo multipurpose module, the a large container used to transfer goods between the space station and the various space taxis. This job will be handled mechanically via ground control.
The two berthing slips will be at the Harmony connecting node, where American crew members are housed. The first slip will be at the front end, where space shuttles previously docked, and the second position toward the up-facing port side.
Once everything is in place, two shiny new International Docking Adaptors will arrive aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule. These adaptors will allow both companies to connect with the ISS easily and efficiently.
In the next few years, SpaceX will also be testing out its Dragon V2 passenger ship and Boeing will launch an unmanned flight with its CST-100 followed shortly by a crewed flight.