At almost 20 years old, the International Space Station (ISS) might be showing its age these days — but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a few more tricks left up its sleeve.
NASA has officially completed installation of the new International Docking Adapter (IDA) on the ISS, which opens the space base up for all manner of new spacecraft to visit. Essentially, it means the ISS is now primed and ready for the private spaceflight revolution. The docking adapter was attached to the ISS’s second Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA-2) via spacewalk last week. The docking port was previously used for space shuttles (remember those?).
By getting the IDA up and running, the ISS can now accept the private ships that will be flying in 2017 and 2018 to bring astronauts to and from the station, as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. It’ll obviously open up a new docking port for the spacecraft being developed by SpaceX and Boeing, but also any future craft, since it’s built to the International Docking System Standard.
Along with making the ISS more versatile, this upgrade also makes it more attractive for when NASA packs up and moves on. The space agency has been teasing plans to allow private corporations to keep the station running once the current funding slate runs out in 2024, as NASA shifts its budget and priorities toward Mars. Having a fancy new IDA is certainly a nice perk.