The European Space Agency has signed a deal with Airbus and Voyager Space to secure its next home in orbit.
The two companies are currently developing Starlab, one of several planned replacements for the International Space Station (ISS), which is set to retire in 2030.
Under the agreement, ESA will assess how the Starlab space station could be used to provide continued access to space for Europe after the retirement of the ISS. ESA would primarily use Starlab for astronaut missions and space-based research. The agency could also potentially provide cargo and crew transportation services for the new space station.
“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, the agency’s director general.
Starlab is one of several projects competing to replace the ISS. Its main challengers are Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which envisions a “mixed-use business park” called Orbital Reef, and Northrop Grumman, which wants to build a modular, free-flying space station. NASA has provided funding for all three concepts and will now determine which of the contenders merit further backing.
Starlab is currently the most attractive option for Europe because of its partnership with French aerospace giant Airbus, which has track record of supporting European space missions. Airbus most recently supplied the European service module for Orion, Europe’s contribution to NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon.
Having Airbus involved helps not only with the technical development of Starlab, but also its business development, Matthew Kuta, president of Voyager Space previously stated. “We have great relationships with ESA, but clearly Airbus has much better relationships,” he said.