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ESA Signs Starlab Commercial Space Station Agreement With Airbus and Voyager Space

The European Space Agency has inked a memorandum of understanding with Airbus and Voyager Space to explore the potential of a Starlab commercial space station as a successor to the ISS.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Tue Nov 14 2023Written by Zac Aubert

The European Space Agency (ESA) has inked an agreement with aerospace giants Airbus and Voyager Space to explore the potential of the Starlab commercial space station as a successor to the International Space Station (ISS).

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed on November 9, during the European Space Summit held in Seville, Spain.

The collaboration marks a significant step forward in the quest for continued European access to space, especially in the wake of the planned retirement of the ISS in 2030. Airbus and Voyager Space, in conjunction with ESA, will initiate studies on how the Starlab space station can serve as a platform for various space activities.

The envisaged utilization of Starlab includes ESA astronaut missions, ESA-supported research, and potential cargo and crew transportation services provided by the agency. ESA's recent announcement of a commercial cargo initiative, slated to have a vehicle ready for missions by 2028, adds a new dimension to the collaboration. The cargo vehicle, part of this initiative, may evolve into a crewed vehicle in the future.

"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." - Josef Aschbacher, Director General of ESA

"This agreement with the European Space Agency is critical as we continue to foster international collaboration in the space domain and move towards succeeding the International Space Station with Starlab. We look forward to working with Airbus and ESA to extend Europe’s footprint in space and ensure they remain a leader in the new generation of commercial space exploration." - Matthew Kuta, President of Voyager Space

Voyager Space had taken a significant step towards enabling European access to space in August by announcing a joint venture with Airbus to develop Starlab. Airbus's involvement is seen as beneficial not only for the technical aspects but also for business development.

"Our collaboration on this next-generation space station builds on a long and successful partnership between ESA and Airbus in developing and operating a wide range of crewed and uncrewed spacecraft," - Mike Schoellhorn, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space.

In addition to the Airbus joint venture, Voyager Space has expanded its partnerships, with an announcement in October of a collaboration with Northrop Grumman. The partnership with Northrop Grumman includes providing a version of its Cygnus cargo spacecraft, capable of autonomously docking with Starlab, along with other potential contributions.

As both commercial space station developers and ISS partner nations explore the transition to commercial stations post-ISS, this agreement highlights the need for new contracts and partnerships, departing from the bartering services approach currently employed.