NASA has always been mum about whether or not humans will be able to find shelter on other planets. Still, they've been fantastic at keeping up with the latest advancements in space exploration. However, they've had trouble with cutting some of the costs associated with non-cutting edge space exploration. They are trying to commercial carriers to handle deliveries of both supplies and astronauts to the ISS.
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They are hoping that private companies will soon take over construction into space. They have already selected six partner companies, Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada, to develop full-size prototypes for deep space habitats. They want to set these up first near the moon and eventually Mars.
The idea is that the structures will be built on Earth and then moved to space on rockets. However, the sixth company to partner with NASA, NanoRacks, hopes to team up with Space Systems Loral and United Launch Alliance to try to move empty fuel tanks from the upper stages of rockets and turn them into habitats. They are doing this because they feel that using anything else would be wasteful.
The hydrogen fuel tank has a diameter of over 4 meters and an interior space of 54 cubic meters. This is much larger than many of the prototypes that the other companies are creating, and it will cost less money.
NanoRacks, Space Systems Loral, and United Launch Alliance joined together to form Ixion. NASA is funding them through the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships. Broad Agency Announcement to "advance commercial development of space while advancing deep space exploration capabilities to support more extensive human space flight missions in the area of space near the moon that will be the proving ground for Mars."
They want to test whether or not it is possible to live within these rocket upper stages and what it would take to convert them. This all comes on just a low-cost concept of a Centaur rocket upper stage that will be attached to the ISS.
Ixion hopes that this investigation will last less than a year and that, in that time, they will convince NASA to keep working with them. Then, they want to put it into practice in the next five years. There is an enormous amount of potential here to really change the world.
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For more information, see IEEE's interview with the developers.