Why The Docking Adapters On The Space Station Are Shaped Oddly

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Scott Manley

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Shared June 23, 2020

There are many docking systems on the International Space Station, reflecting the fact that it's the product of multiple space programs which combined their space station plans into the ISS. The history of the program has lead to some design choices which seem to be strange, until you look at them in the context of the whole program history.
In particular, I often get asked about the pressurized mating adapters at the front of the space station and how the tunnel includes a bend rather than simply going straight through, and of course it's all because of historical choices.

Some further reading on the docking and berthing hardware used on the ISS


Wow, the ISS requires almost as many adapters as the new MacBook

1 month ago | [YT] | 446


Not even the ISS can avoid needing too many dongles.

1 month ago | [YT] | 1,489

Kevin Zheng

Damn, even INTEL doesn't have so many socket standards.

1 month ago | [YT] | 672

John Preisler

The solution is to use oddly-shaped astronauts

1 month ago | [YT] | 430


"that is because of legacy decisions, and it will take more than the occasional bumped head to justify changing out such a large chunk of hardware." Sounds like every meeting within IT

1 month ago | [YT] | 270

The Lonely Rogue

Does the possibility of the unused section coming into use mean that the ISS may need additional storage space added? Imagine, the first module added in years; a closet.

1 month ago | [YT] | 406


Doug bangs his head
Scott: "Oh damn, better start researching"

1 month ago | [YT] | 144

Robert Chandler

Scott has a gift for clear speech and delivering lots of info quickly. I love how he gets right to the point and wastes none of our time.

1 month ago | [YT] | 308

David LaBedz

Scott, more interesting space history. Could one give more details on how the docking adapter functions??

1 month ago | [YT] | 502


I see this was downvoted by 1 guy who bumps his head a lot.

1 month ago | [YT] | 282


"I'm Scott Manley; fly safe"

proceeds to bump head....

1 month ago | [YT] | 101


So what you’re saying is you can’t take two magnetic circles, smash them together, and magically transfer green beans through them?

1 month ago | [YT] | 43

I Collect Stories

5:02 To my eyes, the kink allowed the windows on the top of the shuttle to view the docking adapter. "The two overhead windows ... provide rendezvous [and] docking ... viewing" from NASA's "Forward Fuselage and Crew Compartment Windows."
Useful for people who mistrust cameras.

1 month ago | [YT] | 145


Questions I've literally never asked myself
Scott Manley: Don't worry, I got an interesting answer.

1 month ago (edited) | [YT] | 80

Kevin Acasio

Imagine if the Buran was still flying. I was able to see one in Speyer in the Technik. The Soviets had some amazing ingenuity.

1 month ago | [YT] | 105

Greene Tomphson

gotta love how the two docking modules are "International" and "Russian"

1 month ago | [YT] | 42

Chris Davies

I hate to remember how many hours I spent assembling various versions of PMA1, PMA2 and PMA3 over the years. They were a total nightmare to work on. The design team were sadists. They forced a non-axial component into the station at Unity Node, which was a major structural challenge to resolve.
Not only that, but building the PMAs themselves was a real challenge. Cutting the parts and scoring them so they folded perfectly into alignment with parallel offset surfaces is extremely difficult at that scale. Making the parts line up correctly and be symmetrical was almost impossible, and I must have made 20 PMAs in total.
Once I'd created three which were the correct shape, they had to be robustly reinforced internally to handle any foreseeable impact. Matches cut into sections and placed strategically with artery forceps allowed me to create PMAs which, when I put them in a triangle, were able to support 10 kilograms of load without deforming in the slightest.
For the connections of the components, I embedded 12mm ultra-strong neodymium magnets which snapped into place strongly,
Here are some images of the PMAs in construction, and the details I describe above.
http://4sure.co.nz/iss-paper-model/ <-- directory listing

1 month ago (edited) | [YT] | 63


The clearance issue makes sense going forward indefinitely. Any future vehicle could still potentially exploit the asymmetry to get more clearance in their chosen direction.

1 month ago | [YT] | 31


Oh my God Scott, it's 2020, you can't just ask space station docking ports why they aren't straight!

1 month ago | [YT] | 117

Rian Johnson ruined Starwars

I work with a bunch of ex-shuttle techs and engineers. I will ask around today at work and see what I can get for an answer.

1 month ago | [YT] | 18