New transatlantic partnership formed to build ISS successor

Voyager Space and Airbus Defence and Space join forces to build Starlab, the successor to the International Space Station
John Loeffler
Starlab, the future successor to the ISS
Starlab, the future successor to the ISS

Airbus Defence and Space/Voyager Space 

American aerospace firm Voyager Space and Europe’s Airbus Defence and Space have joined forces to establish a transatlantic venture to build the next-gen, privately operated space station Starlab as a successor to NASA’s International Space Station. 

This US-led collaboration between the two aerospace firms continues the long tradition of joint American and European efforts in the field of space exploration, according to an Airbus statement.

“We are proud to charter the future of space stations with Airbus,” said Matthew Kuta, president of Voyager Space. “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. We are establishing this joint venture to reliably meet the known demand from global space agencies while opening new opportunities for commercial users.”

Voyager won a $160 million award from NASA in December 2021, through its subsidiary Nanoracks, under NASA's Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program. This agreement represents a foundational step in the creation of Starlab, the company said.

A transatlantic partnership

Starlab will not only have a US entity but also a European joint venture subsidiary to cater directly to the European Space Agency (ESA) and its member state space agencies.

“With a track record of innovation and technological firsts, Airbus prides itself on partnering with companies that are looking to change history,” said Jean-Marc Nasr, Head of Space Systems at Airbus. “This transatlantic venture with footprints on both sides of the ocean aligns the interests of both ourselves and Voyager and our respective space agencies. This pioneers continued European and American leadership in space that takes humanity forward. Together our teams are focused on creating an unmatched space destination both technologically and as a business operation.”

The US and Europe have long collaborated on space projects, including the Hubble Space Telescope, which is operated by the European Space Agency, The new partnership continues this collaboration into the private space sector as well. 

Starlab destined to replace retiring ISS

Starlab is the planned replacement for the aging ISS, and will be a continuously crewed, free-flying space station serving NASA as well as a wide customer base of space agencies and researchers worldwide. The primary objective of the program is to maintain a human presence and uphold American leadership in low-Earth orbit (LEO), according to the two companies.

The development of Starlab reached a significant milestone with the completion of the Systems Requirements Review (SRR) in June 2023, which established the major space systems, technical readiness, and compliance with NASA's mission and safety requirements.

Matthew Kuta expressed his enthusiasm for the future of commercial space destinations and the trust NASA has placed in them to build the ISS replacement. 

“Today marks a major step forward for the future of commercial space destinations,” Kuta said. “We are proud to have NASA’s trust to build the replacement for the ISS, a partnership that expands Starlab’s ecosystem to global space agencies, and a team that is mission driven and dedicated to reimagining the future.”

However, the implementation of the joint venture is subject to regulatory approvals as per the relevant governing bodies, so we’ll have to see how the new space station develops in the months and years ahead.

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