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Nanoracks cut a piece of metal in space for the first time • londonbusinessblog.com

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nano racks has just made history of space building and fabrication with the first demonstration of metal cutting in orbit. The technique could be critical for the next generation of large-scale space stations and even lunar habitats.

The experiment was conducted in May by Nanoracks and parent company Voyager Space, after they entered orbit aboard the SpaceX Transporter 5 launch. The company only recently released additional details on Friday.

The goal of the Outpost Mars Demo-1 mission was to cut a piece of corrosion-resistant metal, similar to the outer shell of the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur and common in space debris, using a technique called friction milling. named.

Welding and metal cutting is a messy operation on Earth, but all that dust and debris just falls to the floor. But “when you’re in space, in the vacuum, it doesn’t really do that. It also doesn’t necessarily just float away,” Marshall Smith, Nanoracks senior vice president of space systems, explained to londonbusinessblog.com in May. “What you want to do is contain this debris, not necessarily because it could be a micrometeorite problem, whatever it could be, but mainly because you want to keep your work environment clean.”

The entire demonstration lasted about a minute. The main goal – cutting a single small sample – was successfully completed. Inside the spacecraft were two additional samples to cut as a “target”, and Nanoracks is investigating why they weren’t cut as well.

It was performed in collaboration with Maxar Technologies, who developed the robotic arm that performed the cut. That arm used a commercially available friction mill end effector and the entire structure was inside the Outpost spacecraft to make sure no debris escaped. Indeed, one of the main goals of the demonstration was not to produce debris – and it worked.

Nanoracks used a type of metal that resembles an upper stage of a rocket precisely because the company’s long-term goal is to modify used upper stages and convert them into orbital platforms, or what it calls “outposts.”

“We’re constantly launching higher kicks,” Smith said. “Imagine in the long run, you could start collecting 1, 2, 3, 4 of these and pushing them around so that they interact with each other and you can put them together and create large structures that can be used for a number of options.”

According to Smith, this is just the beginning. In the future, Nanoracks will try to economize on a larger scale in its quest to eventually make greater construction efforts.

In addition to the Outpost program, Nanoracks and Voyager are partnering with Lockheed Martin to develop a commercial space station, which the group calls Starlab. NASA selected the group to further develop its plans under the agency’s Commercial Low Earth Orbit Destinations program, for a $160 million contract. Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman were also awarded contracts.

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