Experimental payload with robotic arm to attempt metal cutting on orbit

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The Outpost Mars Demo-1 mission is scheduled to launch May 25 aboard SpaceX’s Transporter 5 rideshare

WASHINGTON — Voyager Space announced that one of its portfolio companies, Nanoracks, will launch a NASA-funded experiment to demonstrate on-orbit metal cutting using a robotic arm. 

The mission named Outpost Mars Demo-1 is scheduled to launch May 25 aboard SpaceX’s Transporter 5 rideshare. The experiment originally was scheduled to launch in 2020

The mission is part of Voyager’s outpost program that seeks to transform used launch vehicle upper stages into space habitat platforms.

For the demonstration, a robotic arm developed by Maxar will use a milling cutting tool operating at high rotations per minute to melt the metal in such a way that no debris is generated, the company said. 

The robotic arm and the pieces of metal are all contained and launched in a single payload.

Maxar’s robotic cutter also has thermal sensors and cameras. Once in space, Nanoracks and Maxar will have up to one hour to complete the cutting of three metal pieces made of corrosion resistant steel — the same material that is used on the outer shell of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket.

If all goes as planned, the demonstration will occur about nine minutes into flight and will be finished approximately 10 minutes later. 

Nanoracks, Maxar and United Launch Alliance are one of six  teams selected by NASA in 2017 to prototype technologies in support of deep space habitats. 

“With outposts, spent upper stages live on as controllable infrastructure, rather than orbital debris,” Voyager said in a news release. 

The company plans to launch future outpost missions focused on satellite servicing, fuel depots and other in-space activities. One upcoming mission is being planned with Cislunar Industries to harvest, cut, refine, and reuse metal from existing space junk.