A recently confirmed successor to the International Space Station will be commercially developed in a joint venture between American and European companies.
Starlab will be generated on the back of a US$160 million (A$245m) funding stream from NASA, granted in November 2021 as part of its Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program.
The International Space Station (ISS) was commissioned for action in 2000 and has been continuously occupied by around half a dozen crew members drawn from the US, Europe, Canada, Japan and Russia.
The ISS has served the world’s scientific interests in a major exercise in space diplomacy but is due to close its operations in the early 2030s. Starlab will continue the ISS’ work, but with agencies like NASA as customers, rather than operators.
It’s scheduled to launch in 2028.
The Voyager Space-Airbus project will primarily serve NASA, as well as other space researchers and scientists. By bringing Airbus into the mix, Voyager will be able to expand its offering to the European Space Agency through a specially assigned subsidiary.
In a statement, Voyager Space’s president Matthew Kuta said the Starlab project would “meet the known demand from global space agencies while opening new opportunities for commercial users”.
Starlab isn’t the only new space station underway. As well as the Voyager deal, NASA also provided multi-million-dollar grants for other companies to build other low-orbit stations in 2021.
These new stations will serve both commercial and public space research interests, again with NASA as a primary client.
They include Blue Origin (which was started by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos), Northrop Grumann and Nanoracks, the latter of which is helping develop Starlab’s on-board science laboratories. These laboratories will include biology, plant habitation, physics and materials investigations, as well as an open workbench for other experiments.