NanoRacks outlines its private space station plans

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Capitalism in space: NanoRacks, which already makes money launching private payloads to ISS, has revealed its plans for building its own private space station using converted Atlas 5 upper stages.

This project was previously called Ixion, but they have dropped that name, and will now call the first station Independence-1.

They have a contract with NASA for the initial development, and hope to convince the agency to pay them to next build a full-size test prototype. The video at the link to me was exceedingly unconvincing however. It shows a robot beginning the process of refurbishing a used upper stage while in orbit, and simplifies the process to an almost ludicrous degree. While I surely believe it can be done, it will not be simple. The difficulties should not be dismissed.



  • Orion314

    AGREE, I would think building a skylab outpost type on the ground and launch would be a lot easier than doing a complete remote retro fit in orbit by miles.

  • Rodney

    What Atlas 5 upper stage has four engines? Most Atlas launches are to GTO which leaves the upper stage in a highly elliptical orbit from 400 km to 40,000 km. Not the kind of research orbit one would like; zipping through the Van Allen’s twice a day.

  • Edward

    The concept of using a spent propellant tank as an orbital space station/habitat/outpost is not new. This was proposed in the 1980s as a use for the spent Space Shuttle External Tank, rather than drop them into the Indian Ocean (and may have been proposed in the 1960s). There is some practical experience with the concept, as Skylab was built from an unlaunched Saturn third stage. What it takes to turn an upper stage into a usable outpost is known, but doing it to a spent stage in orbit is new.

    After decades of people thinking along these lines, I am not surprised that someone again wants to try it.

    Ease of assembly may not be the driving factor, as a robot could take weeks or months to make the spent stage habitable enough for humans to finish the job. Cost is likely a major driver, and the cost of building and launching the (relatively) heavy pressure vessel is already covered.

    The article notes that ULA wants to reuse its next generation of upper stage, Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES).

    The dream of reusing upper stages is old, and I hope that someone succeeds soon.

    The Starpost website, linked in the article, notes that the team of companies is: NanoRacks, Space Systems/Loral, Altius Space Machines, and Space Adventures. Ixion’s team was NanoRacks, Space Systems/Loral, and United Launch Alliance. ULA seems to be missing from this new team, despite the outpost being made from their upper stage rocket.

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