Spellflight » Contact Lost » Docking Ports

Author's Note: Here we are in 2012. Life imitates art. I recently found out that NASA created the iLIDS design in 2010, now an international docking standard, and what do you know, they combined the LIDS soft dock ring with the APAS hard dock ring! Not long after creating the iLIDS moniker, they changed the name to the NASA Docking System. I suspect they found my fictional design at some point (just do a Google search and you'll find it), and then decided to make sure everybody knew that their docking port design was the real one. Just goes to show that I did my homework.

Spacecraft need ways to connect with each other, and the docking ports described here are the standard systems used in the Contact Lost™ universe. As always, this is a work of fiction.

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I've also made the docking ports available in .3DS and .FBX formats. Click here to download the files.

International Low-Impact Docking System


The International Low Impact Docking System (ILIDS, pronounced "eyelids") was jointly developed by Russia and the United States during the late 1980s and early 1990s to ensure that Russian and American spacecraft could meet and dock in space. ILIDS first flew in 1994 aboard the first Blue Gemini flight, and it made its docking debut on January 25, 1995 when the space shuttle Discovery used one to dock with Mir. The shuttle brought up a docking module with an ILIDS port on one end and an Androgynous Peripheral Attachment System (APAS) port on the other end. The docking module remained attached to Mir so that subsequent shuttle missions didn't have to haul it into orbit. ILIDS owes much of its design heritage to its Russian APAS predecessor, which was originally designed to dock Buran shuttles to Mir space stations. Compared to APAS, ILIDS is smaller and lighter while offering a larger diameter crew hatch- 33" (83.82 cm) for ILIDS versus 31" (78.74 cm) for APAS. Additionally, ILIDS has a low-impact soft capture ring with powerful electromagnets that lets spacecraft dock at slower and safer speeds than APAS while automatically dampening rotations and translations through its Stewart platform. Plus, unlike APAS, ILIDS is fully androgynous; either one of the ILIDS-equipped spacecraft may become the active or passive docking partner. And unlike APAS, ILIDS has a built-in laser ranging and alignment system as well as a hatch-mounted, 1 megapixel charge-coupled device (CCD) video camera to aid in automatic docking maneuvers. Once perfected in 1998, Russia and America jointly offered ILIDS to the International Organization for Standardization, often referred to as the ISO. The freely available design became the ISO Docking System, though most still refer to it as ILIDS. Spacefaring nations aren't required to use ILIDS but they're strongly encouraged to do so in the interests of international cooperation and crew safety. As of 2010, inhabited spacecraft from the Asian Space Alliance, the European Space Agency, Japan, India, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, Russia, and the United States all have at least one ILIDS. Interested parties may obtain design specs, construction blueprints, and engineering CAD drawings if desired.

Low Impact Module Berthing System


In the wake of the 1986 Challenger accident, space shuttles would never fly into polar orbit. As a result, the US Air Force needed an alternate method to fly Vigilance Air Force Station's (Vigilance AFS) core module as well as its expansion modules out of Vandenberg Air Force Base. While Vigilance ended up in a 28.5 degree orbit instead of a polar orbit, its docking ports proved vital to deliver its expansion modules without the use of the shuttle.

The Low Impact Module Berthing System (LIMBS) solved a piece of the puzzle. By combining an Androgynous Berthing Mechanism (ABM) with an International Low Impact Docking System (ILIDS), spacecraft and independently powered/towed expansion modules could autonomously dock with the polar orbiting military space station. Once docked, its 52" (132.08 cm) square hatch allowed transfer of refrigerator-sized International Station Payload Racks (ISPR) between spacecraft and modules. The downside to LIMBS is its weight; it masses more than the ABM and ILIDS combined. As a consequence, the National Aerospace Exploration Agency (NAXA) doesn't use LIMBS on any part of Freedom International except for the Freedom core module, Appaloosa Freighter, and ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV). Nonetheless, LIMBS proved instrumental in assembling Vigilance AFS.


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