The Ixion Initiative Team, which includes NanoRacks, LLC (“NanoRacks”), Space Systems Loral (“SSL”), and United Launch Alliance (“ULA”), has signed and executed a previously announced agreement with NASA to conduct a comprehensive feasibility study evaluating the conversion of rocket upper stages into commercial habitats. Funded by the second phase of the Agency’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (“NextSTEP-2”) Broad Agency Announcement, this innovative approach offers a pathway that is substantially more robust and affordable than fabricating modules independently on the ground and subsequently launching them into orbit.
SSL, a global leader in satellite manufacturing and space-based robotics, will bring a wealth of expertise to the Ixion Initiative Team. Within the feasibility study, SSL will explore leveraging its robotic systems to convert the rocket upper stage into a habitat, examine the use of SSL solar electric propulsion capability, and explore utilizing a commercial habitat for orbital satellite assembly and manufacturing.
Repurposing rocket upper stages for use as habitats could dramatically lower the costs associated with human space exploration, by nearly eliminating both fabrication and launch costs through reuse. After being proven in LEO, the Ixion Initiative Team’s approach can be used to create deep space habitats from any future rocket upper stages, including the Space Launch System’s upper stage, which would provide a substantial amount of volume and capability for human exploration missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
“SSL is always looking for new ways to innovate and leverage commercial capabilities, which is why we’re excited to be a part of the Ixion Initiative Team and NASA’s NextSTEP-2 program,” said Richard White, president of SSL Government Systems. "Now that we are under contract, we can begin exploring the benefits of reusability and how our robotics and propulsion systems can contribute to next-generation space habitats."