French aerospace company Airbus and U.S.-based Voyager Space have announced a groundbreaking collaboration to create a private version of the International Space Station (ISS). The two companies revealed their initial plans in January, with Airbus lending its design expertise to Voyager’s ambitious project called Starlab. This collaborative effort is one of the three pre-selected contenders by NASA to potentially replace the aging ISS with a commercial successor.
Airbus will play a pivotal role as a core partner in the newly planned venture, taking charge of the design, development, and operation of the orbital research post, thus bolstering Europe’s involvement in space exploration. The Starlab project aims to revitalize space research and accommodate crews within a spacious, state-of-the-art laboratory, serving as an alternative to the current ISS, which has been a home to astronauts for over two decades.
Initially, the Starlab blueprint featured an inflatable habitat, spearheaded by Lockheed Martin. However, the project underwent significant changes, resulting in Airbus taking over Lockheed’s role in the construction process. While Lockheed is likely to retain some responsibilities in the supply chain, Airbus’s involvement is expected to be substantial, paving the way for a robust and innovative space station.
Dylan Taylor, CEO of Voyager Space, confirmed that the collaboration would allow Europe to contribute significantly to the project, while still keeping Starlab U.S.-led. The partnership is a testament to the burgeoning relationship between the two continents in the realm of space exploration.
In 2021, Voyager Space’s subsidiary, Nanoracks, secured $160 million from NASA under the Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development program to support the development of Starlab. The funding injection propels the project forward and demonstrates NASA’s interest in nurturing commercial space ventures.
As exciting as the Airbus-Voyager collaboration is, it’s not the only contender in the race to replace the ISS. Axiom Space, along with a team spearheaded by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, is also vying to develop rival space stations under the same program. NASA has set its sights on retiring the ISS by 2030, entrusting private companies to carry out scientific research in low-Earth orbit thereafter.
Dylan Taylor expressed optimism that Starlab’s launch would happen before the ISS is decommissioned, highlighting the confidence in their timeline. The specific date for Starlab’s deployment remains under consideration, with the team diligently working on the logistics and aiming for a timeframe between late 2027 to late 2028.
The collaboration between Airbus and Voyager Space brings unprecedented possibilities for the future of space exploration. Starlab is scheduled for deployment in 2028, and an announcement regarding the launch provider is eagerly awaited in the coming months. The global community watches with bated breath as these two pioneering companies push the boundaries of human ingenuity and cooperation in the cosmos.
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