Demonstrator Launches to Create Space Debris Orbital Stations


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Demonstrator Launches to Create Space Debris Orbital Stations

Armed with the motto “Turn orbital debris into real estate worth billions”
Nanoracks announced that one of the future Falcon 9 missions will launch a technology demonstrator designed to prove that space stations can one day be built in space by redesigning the spent upper stages of rockets.

The company is not new to the space industry, it previously developed and manufactured a space oven for making cookies. The device was sent to the ISS in November on a Cygnus cargo ship. This is a new experience and in some ways an experiment, because so far all the food on the ISS has only warmed up. For those who speak English, there is an interesting interview below on how the baking process will occur and what problems have been encountered.

On November 18, private space company Nanoracks announced that it had reserved space on the launch vehicle for its In-Space Outpost project, in one of the recently announced SpaceX Falcon 9 space missions, which are scheduled to launch as early as the 4th quarter of 2020. The company is known for its successful efforts to use the capabilities of the ISS for the affordable deployment of hundreds of small commercial satellites, thanks to the development of CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD), and has also expanded the ability to organize back-loading for larger launches, which is another way to reduce costs.

More recently, Nanoracks has launched a new venture centered around building unprecedentedly accessible inhabited space stations in Earth orbit. Although the Nanoracks offer is not something fundamentally new, it offered an original solution: modify the upper stages of the launch vehicle, already in orbit, to create space stations in place.

One can only guess whether such a concept can really create safe and affordable space stations and do it more efficiently than the obvious alternative to designing, creating and launching ready-made components of a space station. Nevertheless, the company firmly decided to carry out this feat. Only to overcome technical difficulties will require numerous demonstrations of the latest equipment in space, and the first of these attempts is a demonstration of metal cutting in microgravity as part of one of the Falcon 9 missions.

As a member of the Outpost program team, Maxar will develop a new articulated robotic arm with end mill for this mission. This friction router will rotate at high speed to melt the metal in this way and make a cut, thus avoiding the formation of debris particles in orbit.


The illustration shows the process of creating an orbital station from spent upper stages.

The pilot mission is reported to be carried out while the payload is still attached to the Falcon 9 top stage payload adapter, and it will carry three different sections of the fuel tanks, instead of trying to mill and cut the Falcon 9 stage itself. “We will have 30 minutes to one hour to complete the cutting of three metal parts representing the various upper stages of the launch vehicle, including Centaur. Nanoracks plans to transfer photos and videos of milling and friction cutting, ”said a company spokesman.

Earlier this year, SpaceX announced the Smallsat Rideshare program and soon added new launch options, also lowering the base price tag from $ 2.25 million per 150 kg to $ 1 million per 200 kg to launch a spacecraft or experiment. In addition to 3-4 annual specialized launches, SpaceX also plans to reserve a certain amount of space on certain Starlink launches, dozens of which are currently planned for next year.

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