The privately-owned Nanoracks Bishop Airlock, nested inside the SpaceX Dragon trunk, has reached a stable orbit after a successful launch onboard the CRS-21 mission. Today’s mission was launched from the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A at 11:17 AM ET.
“This is a monumental moment for Nanoracks,” says CEO Jeffrey Manber. “We came up with this idea five years ago. In those five quick years, we’ve gone from being known as the ‘CubeSat’ deployment company to an organization that is building the future of commercial low-Earth orbit infrastructure. I am beyond proud of our team and grateful to all of our partners and customers who have brought us to this very moment.”
The self-funded Bishop Airlock offers five times the current payload volume than is currently available on the government-operated JEM Airlock on the space station and is the first-ever commercial airlock. Bishop’s capabilities include the deployment of free-flying payloads such as CubeSats and externally-mounted payloads, housing of small payloads for research and in-space manufacture, jettisoning trash, and recovering external Orbital Replacement Units (ORUs). ORUs are modular components of the station that can be replaced when needed, such as pumps and other hardware.
The concept for the Bishop Airlock was developed after Nanoracks found themselves in a bottleneck on the space station with too much customer demand for the limited airlock space and opening frequency.
‘It’s a very Nanoracks way of thinking, to say that something on the International Space Station isn’t working for us, so we’ll just go ahead and build our own,” says Nanoracks Airlock Program Manager Brock Howe. “We couldn’t have gotten to this critical point without our partners, which includes Boeing, Thales Alenia Space, ATA Engineering, Oceaneering, and Craig Technologies.”
Bishop is currently certified for 100 cycles, with one ‘cycle’ including both an opening and a closing. Nanoracks expects that lifetime can be extended through some additional analysis and if market demand warrants the increase. The first Bishop customers includeNASA and ESA, and Japanese space robotics startup,GITAI.
“Our Bishop team has been dedicated to this program for years, working most recently around the clock in the midst of a global pandemic, all to make sure our beauty would be delivered in perfect condition and ready to be commissioned upon arrival to the space station,” continues Howe. “I am so proud.”
Once installed permanently on the American side of the space station, Bishop will be a privately funded service allowing NASA to follow the agency goal of serving as one of many customers for commercial services in space, expanding the low-Earth orbit market beyond just government-provided products and services. For Nanoracks, the Bishop Airlock is the first step in building in-space infrastructure, to be followed with demonstrations and missions for theNanoracks Space Outpost Program.