Airbus and Voyager Space have signed a deal with the European Space Agency (ESA) to study potential uses for the Starlab space station.
Starlab is a planned low-Earth orbit (LEO) space station designed by Nanoracks that is expected to launch in 2028. The station is seen as a successor to the International Space Station (ISS) after its deorbiting, which is currently planned for the early 2030s.
The new agreement signed with ESA focuses on the firms’ intention to foster science and technology development, which could include astronaut missions and research activities, as well as the use of technology developed in Europe such as advanced robotics and AI.
It also introduces plans to establish a complete ‘end-to-end’ system with the Starlab space station as an LEO destination and a potential ESA-developed European cargo and crew transportation system.
European astronauts have been travelling to the ISS for over 20 years, offering European scientists access to a weightless environment via ESA’s Columbus laboratory.
ESA said it hopes the new agreement will lead to a “smooth transition” from the ISS towards sustained exploitation of human and robotic infrastructures in LEO after 2030.
Last year, Nasa announced its intention to deorbit the ISS by plunging it into the Pacific Ocean by 2031. The systems that it needs to use for power, communication with Earth and life support for the crew are all designed to be repairable in orbit by astronauts or robotic operations. But while maintenance and upgrades to these systems happen all the time, the degradation of the station’s structure will eventually limit its time in orbit.
“ESA appreciates the transatlantic industry initiative for the commercial Starlab space station, and the potential that its strong European footprint holds for significant European industrial and institutional contributions to, and use of, said station,” said Josef Aschbacher, director general of ESA. “Our teams are looking forward to working closely with the Starlab teams here in Europe and in the US.”
Matthew Kuta, president of Voyager Space, said: “This agreement with ESA is critical as we continue to foster international collaboration in the space domain and move towards succeeding the ISS with Starlab.
“We look forward to working with Airbus and ESA to extend Europe’s footprint in space and ensure it remains a leader in the new generation of commercial space exploration.”
In the past, Airbus has supplied ESA with spacecraft such as the Columbus Module on the ISS and five Automated Transfer Vehicles that fly to it.
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