NanoRacks and Nasa sign new deal for Ixion commercial habitat concept study


US-based aerospace company NanoRacks has signed a new contract with Nasa to carry out a joint study to help the development of the Ixion commercial space habitat concept.

Receiving funding from Nasa’s NextSTEP-2 programme, the contract will see the partnership focus on repurposing spent launch vehicle upper stages.

With the latest agreement, NanoRacks also aims to achieve its goal of bringing about cost-efficient and commercial space stations via repurposing in-space hardware.

NanoRacks CEO Jeffrey Manber said: “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.

"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 utilisation.”

NanoRacks is also working with United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Space Systems Loral to respectively provide launch services and robotic outfitting capabilities for Ixion.

NanoRacks also noted that it has experience on how to operate science labs in microgravity and in building up robotics programmes for increased automation and efficiency.

The company also provides CubeSat services in low-Earth orbit.


Image: Rendering of Ixion commercial habitat in space. Photo: courtesy of NanoRacks.