New Chapter Opens for Commercial Space: NanoRacks and NASA Sign NextSTEP Contract for Commercial Habitat Concept Study
This week marks an important milestone for NanoRacks. NanoRacks and NASA have signed the contract for Ixion, a commercial habitat concept study first announced last summer. The contract will focus on repurposing spent launch vehicle upper stages. NanoRacks is working with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to provide launch services and Space Systems Loral who will provide robotic outfitting capabilities.
Funded by the NASA NextSTEP-2 award, the Ixion concept is the only one of the NASA-funded programs that focuses on repurposing spent launch vehicle upper stages.
For us, at NanoRacks, the signing of the agreement marks a broader milestone: the public start of our commitment to bring about cost-efficient, commercial space stations via re-purposing in-space hardware, and we can’t wait to bring you along for the ride into the future.
Every step NanoRacks takes on the International Space Station (ISS) is preparing us for building on our vision of the future – a world where launches are plentiful, the in-space destination is king – and commercial habitats and space stations populate our solar system with customers from every sector of our society.
Starting with plug-and-play research modules, we’ve mastered how to operate science labs in microgravity and leverage the astronaut expertise onboard, while also building up robotics programs for increased automation and efficiency. We’ve stimulated the growth of the satellite deployment market as the leading provider for CubeSat services in low-Earth orbit, with one of the world’s most diverse customer bases. We’re learning how to operate in the extreme space environment, while limiting space debris, with our External Platform.
Our team, the “Ixion Initiative Team,” is a new addition to NASA’s NextSTEP effort, and will begin by conducting a comprehensive feasibility study evaluating the conversion of rocket upper stages into habitats. This innovative approach offers a pathway that is more affordable and involves less risk than fabricating modules on the ground and subsequently launching them into orbit.
Additionally, the Ixion Initiative Team proposes demonstrating this revolutionary, low-cost concept via the conversion of a Centaur rocket upper stage, which can be attached to the ISS. After the converted Centaur upper stage is attached to the ISS, our team will leverage the habitat as a proving ground for a variety of private sector activities leading to a new era in commercial low-Earth orbit utilization.
NASA has made it clear that the International Space Station will be the last U.S. government-funded space station in low-Earth orbit – and all of us at NanoRacks believe we are well positioned to be one of the commercial leaders as NASA focuses on taking America into deep space.
Let the designing begin.