Image: ESA's International Berthing and Docking Mechanism (IBDM)

March 16, 2016
Credit: ESA–C. Dekker

A close-up of the engineering model of ESA's International Berthing and Docking Mechanism (IBDM) that will mate spacecraft with an airtight seal. Whereas present docking systems are passive and rely on the spacecraft to push against each other to make the connection, ESA's new mechanism is active, allowing the spacecraft to meet more gently before it draws them together.

The International Space Station has three types of docking units that are all incompatible: one designed for Russian and used by Europe's ATV space freighter; one for the now-retired US Space Shuttle; and a berthing port for vessels that cannot dock on their own but are first captured by the Station's robotic arm.

To promote cooperation and allow the next generation of spacecraft to link up, the Station's partner agencies are creating the International Docking System Standard. This will allow the underlying mechanism to be designed in any way but ensures all spacecraft will be able to connect.

ESA's IBDM follows the standard to work with a lighter generation of space vehicles. It is identical for both craft – any two vehicles can dock or be berthed. It is the only design that will sense the forces at play during the mating and adapt accordingly, 'grabbing' a lighter vessel or absorbing the loads of a heavier vehicle.

Although the connection is defined by the international standard, the mechanism behind the docking ring can be designed in any way, simplifying future cooperation in space.

Explore further: One docking ring to rule them all

Related Stories

One docking ring to rule them all

June 4, 2014

( —Connecting spacecraft in orbit will never be simple, but ESA is taking the next step to allow the next generation of vehicles of all types from around the world to link up with each other.

New international standard for spacecraft docking

October 19, 2010

Partners in the International Space Station programme have agreed on a new standard for docking systems, which will be capable also of implementing berthing. The agreement allows a range of compatible, but not necessarily ...

Recommended for you

Image: Changing colors in Saturn's pole

October 26, 2016

These two natural color images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft show the changing appearance of Saturn's north polar region between 2012 and 2016.

Hotspots in an active galactic nucleus

October 24, 2016

The nucleus of a so-called "active" galaxy contains a massive black hole that is vigorously accreting material. As a result, the nucleus often ejects bipolar jets of rapidly moving charged particles that radiate brightly ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.