Airbus and Voyager Space have announced a partnership to develop Starlab, a commercial alternative to replace the International Space Station (ISS) by the end of the decade. The joint venture, led by the US and with a presence in Germany, aims to meet the demand from global space agencies while creating new opportunities for commercial users. The decision to replace the ISS comes as NASA plans to purchase services instead of managing programs itself, similar to how it currently sends astronauts into space.
Voyager Space was awarded a $160 million contract from NASA in 2021 to develop Starlab. In addition, NASA has also awarded contracts to Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman for their own space station projects. Axiom Space, with support from NASA and Thales Alenia Space, is also developing its own station.
The inclusion of Airbus in the Starlab project will allow Voyager Space to offer services to the European Space Agency (ESA), receive European astronauts, and provide industrial returns to Europe. Airbus will leverage its expertise in developing automatic transfer vehicles (ATV) and European Service Modules for the US lunar mission Artemis.
Starlab is scheduled to be launched into orbit in 2028. It will have a diameter of eight meters, almost twice that of the ISS, but with about half the volume due to the ISS having multiple modules. The station will focus on research and work in microgravity, particularly for the pharmaceutical industry, and is not targeting space tourism.
The exact stake of Airbus and Voyager Space in the project has not been disclosed.