When NASA engineers designed the International Space Station during the 1990s, they didn't envision the orbital outpost becoming a hub of commercial activity; nevertheless, that has become one of the most important contributions of ISS to US spaceflight. And as it nurtures American enterprise in low-Earth orbit, the station is increasingly running into a bottleneck: getting scientific research and other payloads outside. Now a Texas company, NanoRacks, has proposed a solution. It is offering to build an airlock that will be attached to the space station and provide the capability to deploy cubesats and larger satellites. The $12 million-15 million airlock would also allow NASA to bring in costly large pumps and storage tanks for repairs rather than disposing of them. "We developed a commercial pathway to the station, and now we want to extend that pathway outside the station," Jeff Manber, the company's managing director, told Ars in an interview. "This is a sign that we believe in the future of the station." NanoRacks, founded to make it easier for companies, universities, and other governments to get their research into space, has become one of NASA's most important partners in commercializing the space station. It regularly flies experimental payloads for paying… Read full this story
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