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International Effort Brings an Open Standard For Docking In Space

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  • Atmosphere (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FTL (112112) <[eman.resarf.lien] [ta] [todhsals]> on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @07:54PM (#33955086) Homepage
    Docking of course is just the first step. One also needs agreement on the atmosphere. American spacecraft (Apollo, Skylab) used 100% oxygen at 5 psi. Soviet spacecraft (Soyuz, Salut, Mir) used 20% oxygen 80% nitrogen at 14.7 psi. Neither side could change this easilly. Thus even though Apollo and Soyuz were able to physically dock in 1975, they had to use an airlock between the two spacecraft. Otherwise the cosmonauts would have gotten the bends from decompression and Apollo could have ruptured from overpressure.

    Fortunately this is no longer much of an issue. As a result of the Apollo 1 fire and the deaths of Grissom, White and Chaffee, American spacecraft (starting with the Space Shuttle) adopted the Soviet approach.
    • by Lord_of_the_nerf (895604) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @07:58PM (#33955136)
      I also hear the Americans like Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf playing when they open the doors, whereas the Soviets are more inclined to Tchaikovsky.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I'm always going to prefer the Blue Danube Waltz while docking..... if for no other reason than nostalgia. Who remembers the docking computers in the C64 version of Elite?

        • Docking computers are for pussies. Real men dock by hand. Now excuse me while I go searching for a version of Elite and an emulator to run it on.
          • by morgauxo (974071)
            Emulators are for pussies. Real men use a real C64 made new with retrobrite and hack on a SD card slot plus an ethernet port.
          • by Smivs (1197859)

            Docking computers are for pussies. Real men dock by hand. Now excuse me while I go searching for a version of Elite and an emulator to run it on.

            Elite is alive and well, and has evolved [oolite.org] into what it should always have been. It's open-source and cross platform (Apple, Linux and that other thing). And the Blue Danube is still there.

          • by RockDoctor (15477)

            a version of Elite and an emulator to run it on.

            Jumping in before Alioth and his hardware Spectrum ethernet add-on get there - play Oolite [oolite.org] (not the little calcareous stones, but the multigalactic tradeing/ fighting space game) more-or-less natively on your platform of choice.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Haeleth (414428)

          Who remembers the docking computers in the C64 version of Elite?

          Not those of us who played the original BBC version. :P

          Waste of money anyway. Aim halfway between the planet and the station, then look out of the side window till you're lined up right, and then it's just a case of matching your rotation as you fly right in. Simple.

    • Re:Atmosphere (Score:5, Informative)

      by Catmeat (20653) <mtmNO@SPAMsys.uea.ac.uk> on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @08:44PM (#33955532)
      Not exactly.... Apollo 1 was about 8 years beforeApollo-Soyuz. They kept flying with 100% oxygen until the Shuttle era.

      The US used pure oxygen because it meant the spacecraft presure could be less, while still delivering the same amount of O2 to the breather. Lower pressure meant a lighter spacecraft with thiner walls. Also, life support systems could be simpler - they just scrubed everything from the atmosphere that's wasn't oxygen.

      Only, on the ground waiting for launch, such a spacecraft would be at atmospheric pressure (to avoid imploding). While 100% O2 at low pressure isn't much of a fire-risk, 100% O2 at atmospheric pressure is a fire-catastrophe waiting to happen, which it duly did with Apollo 1.

      They solved the problem on Apollo by having a normal atmosphere on the ground. As the rocked ascended during launch, the concentration of oxygen slowly increaed, with the overall-pressure slowly reduced in step, so the partial pressure of oxygen remained constant. On the shuttle, they went to oxygen-nitrogen. A downside of this is the need to pre-breath oxygen for 24 hours before a spacewalk. Spacesuits operate at the lowest possible pressure and to go straight-outside in one would give you diver's bends. Bends were never a risk on Apollo as there was simply no nitrgen there to cause it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        A downside of this is the need to pre-breath oxygen for 24 hours before a spacewalk. Spacesuits operate at the lowest possible pressure and to go straight-outside in one would give you diver's bends. Bends were never a risk on Apollo as there was simply no nitrgen there to cause it.

        Only true for US spacesuits. The russian suits use a higher pressure and need only a short prebreathing period (30 minutes).

    • by c6gunner (950153)

      American spacecraft (Apollo, Skylab) used 100% oxygen at 5 psi.

      Wha??? That seems rather unlikely, judging by the distinct lack of all-consuming fires on board those aircraft. You got a citation, by any chance?

      As a result of the Apollo 1 fire ... adopted the Soviet approach.

      Ah. So the fire on the very first Apollo spacecraft lead to the change ... and then he subsequent Apollo and Skylab missions used 100% oxygen anyway.

      Wait, what?

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Correct, once they got as far as Apollo 1, it was too late to change something as fundamental as the air pressure. That would have meant a major redesign. Skylab did back away from pure oxygen, but not by much (and only for medical reasons).

        When Nixon threw away everything NASA had ever built (Apollo, Skylab, Saturn, etc), NASA finally had a chance to revisit their earlier error and correct it.

        Citation:
        http://books.google.com/books?id=wQEAAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA51&lpg=PA51&dq=apollo+oxygen+skylab&s [google.com]

      • by wagnerrp (1305589)

        It all has to do with the partial pressure. As long as your partial pressure remains the same, your body functions as normal, and there is no higher combustibility than normal air. The problem with the Apollo 1 fire was that they were running pure oxygen at 100kPa for ground tests.

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There were several changes as a result of the Apollo I incident, but first a little background:

        All american manned spacecraft up until the shuttle was designed to work at a 5PSI pure oxygen environment. This pressure level gives you a similar oxygen content as on earth at sea level, but at a much lower pressure. There were a couple of main reasons for this.

        1) Simpler consumables management as nitrogen doesn't need to be carried as a consumable
        2) EVA activity simplified as no pre-breath required for the spac

      • The apollo 1 fire happened at two atmospheres pure oxygen. This is absolutely insane. Five PSI O2 is perfectly safe.

      • Re:Atmosphere (Score:5, Informative)

        by AJWM (19027) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @09:54PM (#33956050) Homepage

        Unlikely but still factual. What's combustible at 14.7 PSI pure O2 isn't necessarily so at 3 PSI (not 5) pure O2. 3 PSI O2 is roughly the partial-pressure of O2 in air at sea level.

        Even so, a lot of people said it was stupid at the time, and the post-Apollo 1 redesign of the vehicle, while not eliminating the pure O2 atmosphere for flight, did eliminate it during ground tests and also eliminated many potential ignition sources and potentially flammable components. (They also redesigned the cabin hatch to open outwards, quickly, rather than inwards -- increasing the risk of a possible blow-out but enabling for quick escape in the case of another fire.)

        Redesigning Apollo to use a sea-level-like air mix would have made it too heavy to get to the Moon on the existing Saturn V.

        Mind, as a resident of the Denver area and knowing that there are plenty of people living at even greater altitudes, I'm a little surprised they opted for 14.7 PSI for Shuttle when ~12 PSI works just fine. Commercial airliners pressurize the cabin to = 8000 feet, typically ~7000 feet or about 11.5 PSI, but you start running into issues with avionics cooling, comfort, and extreme exertion if you beyond that.

    • by Isaac-1 (233099)

      I read a fairly extensive report on the Apollo Soyuz docking a few years ago, it seems the airlock tube was just for interfacing the hatches, during the docking both space craft operated at a common pressure with one working a fraction a one PSI over its maximum design pressure and one working at a fraction of a PSI below minimum. There was a lot of engineering concern over this out of range opertation.

    • Docking of course is just the first step. One also needs agreement on the atmosphere.

      and

      Fortunately this is no longer much of an issue. As a result of the Apollo 1 fire and the deaths of Grissom, White and Chaffee, American spacecraft (starting with the Space Shuttle) adopted the Soviet approach.

      So, problem solved?

  • Imagine (Score:5, Funny)

    by MrEricSir (398214) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @08:00PM (#33955154) Homepage

    Imagine if *humans* didn't have standard docking ports.

    "Hey babe, you in the mood?"
    "Yes, but you have a TR-71 and I have a OML 3.0. We'll need to go to HumanShack and get a converter first."
    "Eh... never mind, let's just watch TV instead."

  • More accurately space SF. I dunno, but somehow the idea of a standardized docking port makes space travel feel more routine part of every day--which it should be.

    • by a_hanso (1891616)
      What next? Universal helm control interfaces? Standard hailing frequencies? Translation matrices? Uniform plasma injectors sockets? Stun mode?
  • It will be oddly similar to the US/EU standard, sport a Luis Vuitton label, will cost 90% less, and will fail after 3 dockings. Warranty claims will be met by a government official surnamed "Wang" stating that his brother's ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H the company that produced them is no longer in business and that the principals have fled to Belize along with the proceeds of their sales. A full investigation will be promised, but appeals for transparency will be met with "mind your own fucking business, lao

  • Hard to believe that Sci-Fi has been poking about the issues of non-standard docking ports since the 1960's and the real world is just catching up 50 years later.
  • Why wasn't this thought of years ago before the space station was built?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cmowire (254489)

      It was.

      This is fairly similar to the APAS docking adapter they created for the Apollo-Soyuz test program in the 70s.

      Now... why the ISS doesn't use APAS for all links and why the ISPRs (international standard payload racks) that everything in the US section is contained within won't fit inside an APAS docking tunnel... well... heh heh.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        At least there were recently news about smaller racks; one of nice things with tech progress & miniaturization, I guess (and why the past rack standard was preferred to be rather big)

        And hey, Russians just used what they deemed sufficient (considering small sizes of resupply ships and how the big stuff goes up inside its own module) on a hardware that was long in the making - it's not like what is basically Mir 2 was meant to use ISPRs, or that they would have problems with implementing either of essent

    • by gagol (583737)
      Bureaucracy.
  • Not true (Score:5, Informative)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @08:42PM (#33955520) Homepage

    "Currently the space station has three different types of incompatible docking ports"

    No, it has two. APAS [wikipedia.org], which is used by Shuttle, and Probe and Cone used by Soyuz, Progress, and ATV.
     
    The third system (CBM [wikipedia.org]) is used by MPLM and HTV, and cannot be docked to. The difference is important - as the docking mechanism can take the full force of an approaching spacecraft, and berthing mechanisms cannot. To berth, one has to station keep with the station, and then be picked up and attached by the station's CANADARM-2 manipulator arm.

    The other important difference is size, APAS and Probe and Cone are limited to essentially man sized tunnels. CBM is a full sized door.

    The International Docking Standard actually already exists aboard the station - as APAS.

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Plus Chinese use APAS, apparently (in the linked article there's nothing about their docking mechanism, so I'm not sure why it was linked to...); even if this new version isn't strictly compatible, it certainly looks like another evolution of APAS (after quite a few already - original from RKK Energia used in Apollo-Soyuz, Buran version used by Shuttle in Mir dockings and its modification used currently, or the Orion one) / since the Chinese opted for it already, it shouldn't be too hard to get them aboard,

  • by Yvan256 (722131) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @09:09PM (#33955748) Homepage Journal

    Better build diode bridges into every connection! You wouldn't want an astronaut from the opposite side of the sun to try and dock with the ISS to cause a polarity inversion!

    • I seem to remember that after the attempted docking with Phoenix Ross said that there had been no polarity switch. Something else caused the whole thing to go FUBAR that was never really explained.

      I'm going to head over to Netflix and put it on my Q, this is going to bug me till I find out.

      _
      • by Yvan256 (722131)

        Since they thought everything was reversed, they re-wired the shuttle to invert the polarity. But everything was reversed except for the polarity.

        I don't even remember if it was a movie or an episode of the Twilight Zone or something.

        • "Doppelganger" for its original release in Europe but is known as "Journey to the far side of the Sun" everywhere else. There was an episode of the Outerlimits (original series) called "The Borderland" that had a related, though non space flight, plot.

          I added it to my Netflix Q right after posting last night so I can clear this up for my self.

          I clearly remember Ross saying that the "positive is still positive" but you may be right about how they wired the shuttle. I only remember that they talked about
          • by Yvan256 (722131)

            Yet another proof that the selection of Netflix Canada sucks [slashdot.org]: Journey to the far side of the Sun is not available.

            • You could probably find a torrent.

              I should be getting the DVD by the end of the week so I'll let you know via /.

              Regards,
            • Just finished watching it. Fun to see the old non CGI model effects again.

              At 1:26:00 Ross and the Director are talking about sending another ship to the Phoenix and the Director does ask about the electrical polarity but they don't say what they end up doing.

              At 1:33:00 when the "Doppelganger" docks with Phoenix there is some kind of spark/arcing in the coupler between the two ships. It knocks out the Doppelgangers radio, vertical thrusters needed to land, and some other systems not specified. The spark
  • Hurry... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Snufu (1049644) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @09:10PM (#33955760)
    Microsoft is greasing palms to fastrack their open docking standard, dockx.
  • So there wasn't one international standard until China comes along, and then it's a standard made by everyone but them. Doesn't that sound odd to anyone else?
    • by sznupi (719324)

      Yeah, just goes to show you the standard of /. submissions; this new thing seems to be a version of APAS, which Chinese use.

  • Who uses docking ports these days anyway? I want them to standardize the frigging batteries.

    Still, I'm not surprised the Chinese are the impetus for this. They got charging to standardize on mini-USB, after all.

    • by rwa2 (4391) *

      Hope the Chinese jump onboard and start making them for cheap.

      I really want one installed on my car for some reason.

  • "Docking" (Score:1, Redundant)

    You can keep your standards I'm not into that gay stuff. Even in space.

  • More like facilitating BOARDINGS. The Chinese have the right idea, no fat stupid Americans are gonna be taking THEIR space stations!
  • The greatest thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from.
  • How many people per second can this new dock transfer? And does it support hot swapping?

  • We should be including this design in any broadcasts to stars, and on any plaques attached to future deep-space probes. Wouldn't it be a disaster if visiting aliens arrived and we couldn't dock with them?

  • "Hey guys, lets build a house!... now, you go and make a square door, you make yours a triangle and ill make mine a circle, and then we'll try and figure out how to get the furniture in..."
  • Now I can finish building the home-brewed space vehicle I've been building in my garage in the full confidence that It will be able to dock with all the latest hardware up there. Phew! That's one less problem I need to worry about.

"Only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core." -- Hannah Arendt.

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