Artist' rendering of the Starlab station

Commercial space station could succeed ISS

Image credit: Starlab

Starlab, a commercial space station being developed by Airbus Defence and Voyager Space, could succeed the International Space Station (ISS) after its 2030 shutdown.

The transatlantic joint venture aims to develop, build and operate a space station that brings together American and European interests in space exploration, the company said. 

Starlab was among the initial concepts selected by Nasa to receive $160m (£126m) in funding in 2021 as part of a project to design the station that would replace the ISS as the base for international space missions.

Two years later, Airbus Defence and Voyager Space have announced they will continue working on the project, with Airbus stepping up from the role of technical consultant to become Starlab’s co-owner. Other partners include Hilton and Nanoracks, another Voyager Space company.

“We are proud to charter the future of space stations with Airbus,” said Matthew Kuta, president at Voyager Space. “The ISS is widely regarded as the most successful platform for global cooperation in space history, and we are committed to building on this legacy as we move forward with Starlab.

“We are establishing this joint venture to reliably meet the known demand from global space agencies while opening new opportunities for commercial users.”

International Space Station

International Space Station / iStock

Image credit: iStock

Starlab has been presented as “a continuously crewed, free-flying space station” that will aim to serve Nasa, as well as private consumers and research institutions, with a view towards maintaining a continued human presence in low Earth orbit (LEO).

The joint venture will be a US-based entity, but it will have a European subsidiary “to directly serve the European Space Agency (ESA) and its member state space agencies,” the companies said in a statement.

“With a track record of innovation and technological firsts, Airbus prides itself on partnering with companies that are looking to change history,” said Jean-Marc Nasr, head of space systems at Airbus. “This transatlantic venture with footprints on both sides of the ocean aligns the interests of both ourselves and Voyager and our respective space agencies.”

Starlab space station

Artist rendering of Starlab space station / Starlab

Image credit: Starlab

In November 2020, the ISS surpassed its 20-year milestone of continuous human presence and has provided unique opportunities for research in space. The ISS has for many years symbolised international collaboration, and countries continue to work together on the project despite ongoing conflicts such as the war in Ukraine.

However, in recent years the continuation of the project has been increasingly called into question due to differences of opinion between nations, as well as the wear and tear of the station itself, which Russia claimed was endangering astronauts. 

Nasa has already expressed its intention to ensure there is at least one private space station in orbit from 2030 from which to oversee deep-space exploration initiatives, lunar flights and human missions to Mars. In addition to Starlab, Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman have also received funding to develop their own designs. 

Airbus Defence and Voyager Space have said they are planning to commence operations on Starlab in 2028. 

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