NanoRacks today unveiled the “INDEPENDENCE-1. The NanoRacks Space Outpost Program”. The new website Starpost.Space describes the design, created in a collaboration with ULA, Space Adventures, Altius Space Machines, and Maxar, for an outpost in orbit created by re- purposing a Centaur upper stage. Initially the habitat could be attached to the ISS and then later flown as a free-flyer.
The NanoRacks Space Outpost project (previously named Ixion) comes out of a grant award from NASA’s NextSTEP program. The NanoRacks led team “successfully conducted 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.”
Cut-away view of a Centaur modified to become a habitat.
A ground based prototype is the next step for the collaboration: NanoRacks lays out vision for turning rockets into outposts – GeekWire
The next big task for NanoRacks’ NextSTEP effort would be to build a full-size, on-the-ground prototype. Manber said the plan that’s currently under discussion with NASA calls for taking a Centaur upper stage that didn’t pass the required checks for spaceflight, and refitting it as a demonstration module at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
“We expect that we should be able to reach a successful conclusion in the coming month or two,” he said. Building the on-the-ground prototype would show NASA that NanoRacks and its partners can address all of the project’s technical challenges.
At the same time, Manber is talking with other potential customers about building a commercial outpost. “I would say that we’ll have news on that this year,” he said.