Airbus Defence has signed on as a partner with Voyager Space in a joint venture to develop, build, and operate a commercial space station called Starlab. It is among several private space station concepts designed to replace the International Space Station (ISS), which is scheduled to shut down in 2030.
Starlab was one of three concepts selected by NASA for funding in 2021. It received $160 million from the space agency for design and development. NASA also has agreements with Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, and Axiom. The grants represent a cost-sharing, public-private partnership arrangement that seems to be the model for launching private commercial space ventures. Last week’s news marks a transition from Airbus’s role as technical consultant to Starlab’s co-owner. Other partners include Hilton and Nanoracks, another Voyager Space company.
“We are establishing this joint venture to reliably meet the known demand from global space agencies while opening new opportunities for commercial users,” Voyager Space President Matthew Kuta said in a statement.
Voyager Space has completed the Starlab Systems Requirements Review (SRR), according to Kuta, which covers “the major space systems, technical readiness, and ability to meet NASA’s mission and safety requirements,” in coordination with NASA’s Commercial LEO Development Program team. Voyager’s goal is to launch Starlab in 2028 “to ensure a continued human presence in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO).”
NASA wants to have at least one commercial space station in flight before the ISS is retired. The U.S. space agency says this will let it focus on deep-space exploration, lunar flights, and human missions to Mars.
Axiom Space, partnering with SpaceX and NASA, plans to attach modules to the ISS and then the modules will later be detached to become an independent station. Boeing, Blue Origin, Sierra Space, and Redwire have announced plans to build the Orbital Reef space station by 2030.
Northrop Grumman also has a space station in the works, using the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) module it is building for the Lunar Gateway space station. The new station has yet to be named. Airbus also announced a space-station concept earlier this year called the Loop, though it’s not clear if that will be abandoned now that it is partnering in Starlab.
In May, California start-up Vast Space said it plans to launch the first module of what will be a space station. It forecasts 2025 for the launch of the station atop Space X’s Falcon Heavy rocket, with a 30-day orbital mission that includes private astronauts happening soon after. If successful, Vast Space would have the first private commercial space station.