- Press Release
- Dec 2, 2022
Ixion Initiative Team wins NASA award to study conversion of rocket upper stages into habitats for use in LEO and beyond
NASA has selected the Ixion Initiative Team, comprised of NanoRacks, LLC (“NanoRacks”), Space Systems Loral (“SSL”), a leading provider of innovative satellites and spacecraft systems, and United Launch Alliance (“ULA”), the nation’s premier launch provider, to participate in the Agency’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (“NextSTEP-2”) program. The Ixion 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.
The Ixion Team proposes demonstrating this revolutionary, low-cost concept via the conversion of a Centaur rocket upper stage which will be attached to the International Space Station (“ISS”). After the converted Centaur upper stage is attached to the ISS, the Ixion 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 (“LEO”) utilization.
The Ixion Team is composed of commercial space leaders. For example, no company has done more commercial work on the ISS than NanoRacks, which has shepherded over 350 payloads through the Station’s safety and review process, and NanoRacks has deployed 131 satellites from the ISS and ISS visiting vehicles. Moreover, SSL, America’s most prolific commercial satellite manufacturer, will apply its world-class capabilities to executing the Ixion Initiative, while exploring the benefits of leveraging a crewed space station to assemble and deploy satellites.
After being proven in LEO, the Ixion 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 LEO, human exploration missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
Reuse of rocket upper stages for habitats is a proven concept, first implemented by NASA’s Wernher von Braun for Skylab, America’s first space station. “Our plan is to dramatically lower the proposed costs for habitats to allow for the largest customer base, both commercial and government,” explained Jeffrey Manber, Chief Executive Officer of NanoRacks. “With SSL and NanoRacks working together, we have the knowledge base to assure a solid commercial use of tomorrow’s habitats via re-purposed ULA Centaur platforms.”
“SSL is excited to be a part of the Ixion team and to work with its partners and NASA,” said Mike Gold, Vice President of Washington Operations and Business Development. “We’re eager to explore how our company’s exceptional technical capabilities can be leveraged to support NASA’s human exploration missions beyond LEO, while simultaneously utilizing the ISS as an incubator for new and innovative ways to fabricate and deploy commercial satellites. At SSL, we’re constantly striving to expand and improve commercial capabilities and the NextSTEP-2 program provides a unique opportunity to craft a dynamic and complimentary future for private and public sector space operations.”
NanoRacks, LLC was formed in 2009 to provide commercial hardware and services for the U.S. National Laboratory onboard the International Space Station via a Space Act Agreement with NASA. NanoRacks’ main office is in Houston, Texas, right alongside the NASA Johnson Space Center. The Business Development office is in Washington, DC. Additional offices are located in Silicon Valley, California and Leiden, Netherlands.
In July 2015, NanoRacks signed a teaming agreement with Blue Origin to offer integration services on their New Shepard space vehicle. The Company has grown into the Operating System for Space Utilization by having the tools, the hardware and the services to allow other companies, organizations and governments to realize their own space plans.
As of July 2016, over 370 payloads have been launched to the International Space Station via NanoRacks services, and our customer base includes the European Space Agency (ESA) the German Space Agency (DLR,) the American space agency (NASA,) US Government Agencies, Planet Labs, Urthecast, Space Florida, NCESSE, Virgin Galactic, pharmaceutical drug companies, and organizations in Vietnam, UK, Romania and Israel.
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Space Systems Loral (SSL) is a leading provider of commercial satellites with broad expertise to support satellite operators and innovative space related missions. The company designs and manufactures spacecraft for services such as direct-to-home television, video content distribution, broadband internet, mobile communications, and Earth observation. As a Silicon Valley innovator for more than 50 years, SSL’s advanced product line also includes state-of-the-art small satellites, and sophisticated robotics and automation solutions for remote operations. For more information, visit www.sslmda.com.