The European Space Agency (ESA) and the American company Voyager Space last week signed an agreement making Voyager’s Starlab space station Europe’s main space station destination, replacing ISS.
Starlab will fulfill that role, at least partially, in the future for the space agencies of individual ESA member states. It’s expected to launch as soon as 2028, with operations set to start in 2029. This will include access for astronaut missions and to conduct research as well as providing opportunities for commercial business development. Starlab is also set to provide a complete “end-to-end” system in low-Earth orbit to which European crews and cargo will journey.
This European deal became more likely when Airbus joined the partnership of Voyager and Lockheed Martin in January 2023. It is also probably why Northrop Grumman in October 2023 abandoned its own space station project and joined this one instead. ESA is a big customer, most likely to guarantee the most profits.
What makes this deal different than ISS is that the station will not be owned by this large government customer. The companies building Starlab — led by Voyager — will be free to sell its services to anyone who wishes to use it. This deal also means that NASA and ESA will be going separate ways after ISS, no longer partnering on a station.
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