NASA's new team, Ixion Team is part of their NextSTEP effort, whose job is to conduct 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.
NASA's Ixion Initiative Team is comprised of NanoRacks, LLC (“NanoRacks”), Space Systems Loral (“SSL”), and United Launch Alliance (“ULA”), 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 program that will demonstrate a 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 who have contributed greatly to the space program. Those companies include NanoRacks for their work on the ISS, which has shepherded over 350 payloads through the Station’s safety and review process, and deployed 131 satellites from the ISS and ISS visiting vehicles. Moreover, SSL, a prolific commercial satellite manufacturer, will apply its 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.
Jeffrey Manber, Chief Executive Officer of NanoRacks stated, “Our plan is to dramatically lower the proposed costs for habitats to allow for the largest customer base, both commercial and government. 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.”
Mike Gold, Vice President of SSL's Washington Operations and Business Development said, “SSL is excited to be a part of the Ixion team and to work with its partners and NASA. 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.” http://www.nasa.gov http://www.nanoracks.com http://www.sslmda.com