Space

Voyager and Airbus will operate Starlab private space station via ‘transatlantic joint venture’

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Voyager Airbus starlab
Image Credits: Starlab (opens in a new window)

Voyager Space and Airbus Defence and Space are expanding their existing relationship via a new joint venture focused on the design, build and operation of the Starlab commercial space station.

The two companies announced they will be partnering on Voyager’s Starlab space station in January, saying that Airbus would provide “technical design support and expertise,” but little else was disclosed at the time. Today’s news marks a considerable uptick in commitment from Airbus, and a signal that both companies are looking to attract European government partnerships.

A representative for the firms declined to comment on the percentage of ownership between Voyager and Airbus.

The transatlantic JV will be a U.S.-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.

Denver-based Voyager Space first revealed its ambitions to operate a commercial space station in October 2021, with a consortium made up of it, Lockheed Martin and Voyager subsidiary Nanoracks. The companies are planning to commence operations in 2028, a full three years before the planned decommissioning of the International Space Station (ISS).

Indeed, NASA is happy for private industry to take the lead on developing and operating the station (or stations) that will replace the ISS; in December 2021, the space agency awarded more than $400 million in agreements to three major private space station projects: Voyager’s plans got $160 million, while Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef received $130 million and Northrop Grumman’s project got $125.6 million.

Of course, once the ISS is decommissioned, NASA is not the only space agency that will be affected. All of the international partners that use the ISS will also be looking for a new home for research in space, but come 2030, they’ll have to deal with private companies when looking to book space, not NASA. More direct involvement by a Europe-based company in a station’s operations could make the entire project more amenable to European governments and taxpayers.

“The International Space Station 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,” Voyager president Matthew Kuta said in a statement.

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