The European Space Agency (ESA) is working on a new system to enable easy docking between two spacecraft. maxon developed two special drive systems for this purpose.
Even though it’s been done many times before, the docking maneuver between two objects in space is always a delicate and potentially dangerous procedure. The speed is extremely high (about 28,000 km/h in case of the ISS), and corrections are difficult. For example, when the two objects are about to meet, maneuvering thrusters can no longer be used, since their exhaust plumes can cause damage. To prevent harm, cargo transporters are caught by a robotic arm installed in the International Space Station (ISS) and berthed manually. Manned spacecraft on the other hand dock directly in a computer-controlled process.
This type of docking maneuver is going to become easier and safer in the future, so the European Space Agency (ESA) has commissioned its industry partners to design a new docking system called IBDM (International Berthing and Docking Mechanism). This conforms to the International Docking System Standard (IDSS), a standard on which the leading space agencies worldwide have agreed. The system will therefore be compatible with the ISS and most other spacecraft. The mechanism’s first missions will be with the Dream Chaser, a craft that looks like a compact version of the Space Shuttle and will soon perform cargo flights to the ISS. The craft is being developed by the Sierra Nevada Corporation.