Jeffrey Manber, the CEO of Nanoracks, has been heading the current project to take old rocket parts and turn them into miniature space stations. Manber wants to use autonomous robots to bend and weld the rocket parts to create laboratories, depots, and warehouses. Nanoracks will use the parts to create experiment exteriors and once that proves successful they will move to develop interiors.
When rockets are in orbit they launch in two stages, each with its own propellant tanks and engine. The first stage pushes the rocket to the edge of space and the second stage takes the payload up to orbital speed before it gets released. By this point, there is just enough fuel in the engine for the upper stage to go back to Earth. Without that, it will circle the planet as an “uncontrolled satellite.” The relevance in this is Nanoracks wants to use those upper stages for the developments of the space stations. The typical SpaceX Falcon 9 is 12 feet in diameter and about 30 feet tall.
The team will have to get rid of any fuel in the tanks to prevent explosions, and then the robots get involved. The robots will attach necessary parts to make the functional (solar panels, small propulsion units, etc.). Nobody has ever been able to pull off making a space station in orbit before, Nanoracks hopes to be the first. The company has a small chamber, where a robotic arm will attempt to cut metal without creating debris.
In an article from WIRED, Manber says he, “sees recycling rockets as the next logical step in increasing orbital commerce and expand humanity’s reach in the solar system.”
Nanoracks still has lots of experiments to go through before being able to fully recycle a rocket to be a space station but unlike before, the possibility is there for it to happen.
This idea is the future of space, stay tuned!