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ESA signs deal with Vast to use its Haven-1 space station

Vast Haven-1 station inside Falcon-9 fairing
Vast Haven-1 station inside Falcon-9 fairing

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the commercial space station startup Vast today signed an agreement that sets the initial terms for ESA to use Vast’s first space station, Haven-1, as well as any space stations to follow.

The agreement outlines the parties’ intention to foster human spaceflight, science, technology and commercialisation development and explore collaboration in low Earth orbit destinations other than the International Space Station. The collaboration will initially focus on exploring opportunities for access to space for Europe through the Vast Space Stations. These could include:

  • Access to the Vast Space Stations for ESA and its Member States, for astronaut missions and research activities as well as commercial business development.
  • Supporting European industry to supply subsystems and equipment for future Vast Space Stations.
  • Vast making use of future qualified European LEO cargo and/or crew transportation services, at market rates and commercially viable terms and conditions, also as a means for offsetting future ESA Astronaut Missions.
  • Vast and ESA jointly supporting European industry in getting certified for docking to future Vast Space Stations.

This deal is actually a very big deal, as Vast’s Haven-1 space station is the only one under construction that does not have a deal with NASA. It is being financed privately and will at first simply be a one module habitat set to launch as early as August 2025 on a Falcon 9 rocket, with the first 30-day 4-person manned mission to follow almost immediately on a Dragon capsule. Vast’s work is closely linked with SpaceX, as its station also has a deal to use Starlink for communications.

The plan is to add more modules in the coming years to build up to a full station.

This deal not only indicates that this independent station is going to give the NASA-supported stations some real competition, it indicates that Europe is committed to doing the same. Now that Europe has abandoned the government-owned and international cooperation model it has used for decades with decidedly mixed results and switched to the capitalism model, where it is merely a customer buying things from a competing private sector, it is doing so full speed ahead, without any hesitation.

The independence of this station also frees it and its customers from the heavy rules that NASA routinely imposes on anyone who deals with it. This aspect gives Vast a competitive advantage that many will clearly wish to take advantage of.

This deal is therefore a challenge that better be recognized by NASA and the other commercial stations. If they don’t react properly they could find themselves left in the dust completely.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

 
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"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

8 comments

  • F

    This is truly an exciting time in space travel and space exploration.

  • sippin_bourbon

    I find this interesting. This, assuming it gets off the ground, will be a US built station, launched on a US built commercial launcher, but manned and operated by ESA? So potentially, no American, Russian or Chinese residents. That would be a big step up for Europe in terms of space.

    I looked up Vast. I see a lot about this module and future concepts.
    What I do not see is anything regarding operations. ISS requires a massive and steady ground based operations infrastructure. Does VAST provide that as part of the deal, or will ESA have to develop and provide that?

  • sippin_bourbon: There is nothing in this agreement that gives ESA exclusive rights, and Vast would be foolish to agree to such a thing. All it has done is signed ESA on as a customer.

    As for a mission control, SpaceX’s manned orbital missions have shown that its staffing is vastly overrated. ISS’s ground control staffing is far too large, partly because as a government operation feather-bedding should be expected, and partly because as a government project the station was over-designed and requires too much control from the ground.

    A space station should always be designed to run as simply as possible, because it really is nothing more than a prototype interplanetary space ship, and as such the less interaction with ground control, the better.

  • Richard M

    ESA and its European commercial allies still seem to be most heavily committed to Starlab.

    But this does suggest that perhaps they are hedging their bets a little. Stay tuned.

  • Edward

    This shows that commercial space stations are in demand.

    I like the part where Vast’s Haven-1 space station launches next year, well ahead of any of the NASA-sponsored space stations. Free government money comes with a cost. One of them seems to be a cost to the schedule.

    With Vast space stations on orbit so soon, perhaps there will be less need for SpaceX so use one of its Starships as an interim space station.

  • Edward: Or maybe Vast will work a deal with SpaceX to use a Starship for additional modules to its space Station.

  • Chris

    We may see how fast Vast can operate – if it can scale. SpaceX can obviously meet demand for launches from the outside – and when demand is not there they launch more Starlink. They have depth.
    I too believe the market is there for space stations; both tourism and commercial. The commercial side is barely lit yet – in my humble view.
    If the Vast concept is valid then the marriage to SpaceX will drive Vast to their limit to fill this demand.

    Very interesting times…….I wonder about our conversations in 20 years.

  • Edward

    Robert,
    You suggested, “Or maybe Vast will work a deal with SpaceX to use a Starship for additional modules to its space Station.

    This is an intriguing thought. I’ve been thinking about this suggestion for a couple of days. There is a lot of volume to use, they seem to be cheap to make, and the manned Starships already come with environmental control. Using an upper stage as a manned space station is not a new idea, of course, but it has not been Vast’s plan. However, it may not take much to turn the propellant tanks into living quarters and laboratory space.

    Vast has proposed spinning one of its space stations in order to create artificial gravity. A Starship may be strong enough for a nice amount of artificial gravity — likely 1G, given its nose lift points. Vast seems to have shown such a space station as a long linear module or series of modules.

    Connecting six Starships end to end in a hexagon (or eight in an octagon) may make for a virtual von Braun toroidal space station, spun up for artificial gravity. How many sideways Gs can a Starship tolerate when supported by the front and aft ends?

    I don’t have insight as to how much demand that there is for commercial space stations, free from the restrictions and requirements that NASA places on ISS use and the limited availability to ISS access. I imagine that it is similar in magnitude seen by the small satellite industry, with the reduction in the cost of launch and that the dramatic increase in launch opportunities I expect each of the half-dozen-ish* commercial space stations to be much busier and more popular than the ISS and the Chinese space station.

    The following article is about a year old, but it may be informative:
    https://spacenews.com/from-one-many-the-race-to-develop-commercial-space-stations-and-the-markets-for-them/
    __________________
    * My current count of potential (proposed) commercial space stations:

    Haven-1 Vast

    Axiom’s space station (starts as an attachment to ISS). This is one of three that have Commercial Low Earth Orbit Destinations contracts with NASA (CLD)

    Orbital Reef (Blue Origin, Sierra Space, Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions, and Arizona State University). Also CLD

    Starlab (Lockheed Martin, Voyager Space (nee Nanoracks), Airbus, Northrop Grumman) Also CLD. Realigned with NG 10/2023

    Life (Sierra Space alone)

    Starmax (Gravitics)

    Above Space (nee Orbital Assembly)

    ThinkOrbital

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