Canadian space launch startup Maritime Launch Services (MLS) has partnered with commercial space services company Nanoracks to develop a way to reuse old rocket parts in space, the CBC reports.
The idea is to one day turn used upper stages of rockets — the parts that are filled with fuel to launch them into orbit — into orbital facilities, including hotels, research centers and storage depots.
“There’s lots of things that you can be doing with the upper stages and our core belief at Nanoracks is you don’t waste something in space — it’s too precious,” Jeffrey Manber, CEO of Nanoracks, told the CBC.
Nanoracks wants to use MLS’s rockets to house welding robots that’ll refurbish derelict upper stages into “outposts” while they’re already in space, rather than assembling them back on Earth first.
But that vision is still many years out. The rockets MLS is currently using, which are Cyclone 4Ms, aren’t big enough to be turned into space hotels or other facilities meant for human use, and Manber isn’t “sure it would be safe” anyway.
Another advantage to this approach: reusing old rocket parts in space means less junk. Space junk is a growing issue and upper stages that aren’t sent to be burned up in Earth’s atmosphere contribute to it, according to NASA.
“We’ve got this stuff up there anyway, so why not take it and reuse it and repurpose it for something that has a second benefit […] that does more science,” MLS president and CEO Stephen Matier told the CBC.
More on space junk: Canada Wants Your Help Cleaning up Space Junk