Nanoracks Outpost
As the new its senior vice president of commercial space stations, Marshall Smith will lead work by Nanoracks to develop commercial modules converted from the upper stages of rockets. Credit: Nanoracks

WASHINGTON — Commercial space services company Nanoracks has hired a former NASA official most recently involved with planning for the Artemis program to lead its efforts to develop commercial space stations.

Nanoracks announced Aug. 2 it hired Marshall Smith to be its senior vice president of commercial space stations. Smith retired from NASA at the end of July after more than 35 years at the agency, most recently as deputy associate administrator for systems engineering and integration in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

In his new role, Smith will oversee the company’s Outpost program, which seeks to convert upper stages of launch vehicles into modules that can be used for in-space manufacturing or habitats, as well as plans to develop free-flyer commercial space stations. Smith will run the company’s new office in Huntsville, Alabama.

“I’ve gotten to know Marshall very well over the last several years and have come to appreciate his understanding of how to evolve the NASA legacy into the commercial sector,” Jeffrey Manber, chief executive of Nanoracks, said in a statement. “Put simply, Marshall gets it. He understands that the innovation and cost efficiencies of the private sector are key to furthering American leadership in space.”

Marshall Smith. Credit: NASA MSFC/Emmett Given

“I was impressed to learn how much Nanoracks has quietly accomplished in advancing the use of in-space platforms and look forward to moving both Nanoracks and the new Huntsville office forward to ensure a vibrant future for commercial space stations and platforms,” Smith said in the statement.

Nanoracks is one of the pioneers in commercial use of the International Space Station, working with NASA to fly payloads to the station and use it as a platform for cubesat launches. Nanoracks developed a commercial airlock, called Bishop, that was installed on the station in December 2020. The company is one of several that has expressed interest in developing commercial space stations as successors to the ISS.

In his last role at NASA, Smith was the senior engineer for the directorate responsible for human spaceflight, converting high-level goals into program objectives and requirements. Before that, he was director for lunar exploration programs, ovseeing development of the lunar Gateway, Human Landing System and other lunar exploration efforts.

Voyage Space Holdings acquired a majority stake in Nanoracks in a deal that closed in May, adding Nanoracks to its portfolio of space companies. Smith said that he will be working closely with Voyager to make the most use of those firms. “There is a need for a vertically integrated NewSpace company with entrepreneurial spirit that will drive the future of our space programs by scaling up successful smaller space companies,” he said in the statement.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...