SpaceX’s Transporter-5 mission will launch an experimental metal cutting robot that could transform orbiting rocket parts into science platforms

by Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo May 25, 2022

SpaceX’s Transporter-5 mission will launch an experimental metal cutting robot that could transform orbiting rocket parts into science platforms

SpaceX is ready to launch the fifth SmallSat Rideshare Program mission, Transporter-5. The program reduces the cost of spaceflight by enabling multiple companies to share Falcon 9 for a combined price tag. Booking an entire rocket can cost up to $67 million, the rideshare program has a base price of $1.1 million to deploy a payload that weighs 200-kilograms. A veteran Falcon 9 is scheduled to lift off on Wednesday, May 25 at 3:24 p.m. ET from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The Transporter-5 mission will launch dozens of payloads to orbit operated by multiple companies. 

An interesting payload aboard SpaceX’s upcoming Transporter-5 mission is a metal cutting robot that could transform orbiting rocket parts into science platforms to minimize space junk. Nanoracks partnered with Voyager and Maxar Technologies to develop the robotic device that will demonstrate for the first time how metal could be cut in orbit, the mission is called Outpost Mars Demonstration 1 (OMD-1). "This mission is part of our Outpost Program, which is focused on transforming used launch vehicle upper stages into uncrewed, controllable platforms," said Nanoracks representatives. These platforms could then be used to host science experiments in orbit, among other uses. 

Aerospace companies have not yet developed fully-reusable rockets, portions of launch vehicles remain in orbit soon after launching astronauts and cargo; Nanoracks aims to repurpose rockets' upper-stage by cutting it up in-orbit and using the chassis to create 'outposts' for research in orbit. An example is pictured above, it depicts a rockets upper-stage that was cut-up and converted into a greenhouse to research plant growth in space.  

The Outpost Program is funded by NASA. “We see this Outpost demonstration mission as contributing to NASA’s efforts to go to the Moon, Mars, and deep space,” says Marshall Smith, Nanoracks Senior Vice President of Space Systems. “NASA continues to turn to industry to test new exploration technologies, and we’re thrilled to support the agency’s goals through this demonstration while promoting the benefits of sustainable technology.”

Soon after SpaceX launches the OMD-1 device to orbit, the company will have 1-hour to demonstrate how it cuts metal in microgravity. "Nanoracks designed a self-contained hosted payload platform to demonstrate on-orbit, debris-free, robotic metal cutting. Our partner in this demonstration, Maxar Technologies, developed a new robotic arm with a friction milling end-effector. Friction milling uses a cutting tool operating at high rotations per minute to melt the metal in such a way that a cut is made, and no debris is generated," they said in a press release. Maxar’s robotic cutter is equipped with thermal sensors and cameras that will transmit data back to developers on Earth from Low Earth Orbit. The demonstration will initiate approximately 9 minutes into flight and is expected to be complete 10 minutes later. 

“Maxar’s innovative robotics engineering on Mars Demo-1 represents a critical step toward using new technology to reduce future space debris,” said Chris Johnson, Maxar’s Senior Vice President of Space. “Maxar is excited  to partner with Nanoracks on this demonstration, which will test new ways to keep space a safe place to operate and explore for future generations. We are committed to eliminating unnecessary debris while developing on-orbit servicing and manufacturing capabilities, technologies which will revolutionize the space industry.”

Featured Image Source: Nanoracks 








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