Voyager Space partners with Airbus to build its Starlab space station

Voyager Space, one of the three companies with a contract from NASA to develop a commercial private space station, has now signed a partnership agreement with the European aerospace company Airbus to work together to build its Starlab space station.

The companies announced Aug. 2 the creation of a joint venture, also called Starlab, that will be responsible for the development and operation of the station. The joint venture builds upon an agreement announced in January where Voyager selected Airbus to provide technical support for the proposed station.

“This transatlantic venture with footprints on both sides of the ocean aligns the interests of both ourselves and Voyager and our respective space agencies,” said Jean-Marc Nasr, head of space systems at Airbus, in a statement. “Together our teams are focused on creating an unmatched space destination both technologically and as a business operation.”

Though no specifics of the deal were released, Voyager will continue to retain 51% control. It appears that Voyager’s goal with this deal is to get its foot in the door of Europe. With ESA no longer considering doing any work on the space stations of either China or Russia, it needs a place to go after ISS is retired. By signing up Airbus as a partner Voyager makes Starlab the most likely go-to station for these European companies and governments.

Isn’t private enterprise and freedom wonderful? Without even trying Europe is going to get a space station of its own, and it will do it by hiring this private consortium of American and European companies.

Hat tip to Jay, BtB’s stringer.

NASA outlines its expected needs as a space station customer

NASA has now published an updated detailed specification of what it will want to do on the four private space stations being built to replace ISS.

NASA published two white papers Feb. 13 as part of a request for information (RFI) for its Commercial Low Earth Orbit Destinations effort to support development of commercial stations. The documents provide new details about how NASA expects to work with companies operating those stations and the agency’s needs to conduct research there.

One white paper lists NASA’s anticipated resource needs for those stations, including crew time, power and volume, broken out for each of the major agency programs anticipated to use commercial stations. Companies had been seeking more details about NASA requirements to assist in the planning of their stations.

,,,The second white paper outlines the concept of operations NASA envisions for its use of commercial space stations. The 40-page document described in detail what it expects from such stations in terms of capabilities, resources and operations, as well as what oversight the agency anticipates having.

At the moment NASA has contracts with four different space station companies or partnerships, Axiom, Blue Origin, Nanoracks and Northrop Grumman, each of which is building its own station. Because NASA will initially be the biggest customer for these stations its requirements will help shape those stations significantly, which is why this information is of critical importance for the private companies.

At the same time, NASA is not dictating specific designs. The agency remains the customer, buying time on private facilities that will be owned privately and be free to sell their product to others. Thus, the designs of these stations might not match exactly what NASA desires, since even now there are other customers interested in buying space station time and space.

Space station builder Voyager raises $80 million in private investment capital

Capitalism in space: Voyager Space, one of three companies that NASA has provided funds to build a private space station, has now raised $80 million in private investment capital.

The funding includes participation from NewSpace Capital, Midway Venture Partners and Industrious Ventures, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings and other documents viewed by TechCrunch. Seraphim Space also participated, TechCrunch has confirmed. The funding was filed with the SEC on January 27.

The company is building Starlab in partnership with Nanoracks (which is the majority owner of Voyager) and Lockheed Martin, which has already received $160 million from NASA.

Voyager signs deal with Airbus to build its private space station

Voyager Space, the division of Nanoracks that has a contract with NASA for building one of four private space stations, has now signed a deal with Airbus, which will provide Voyager additional technical support.

It appears this deal is going to give Europe access to at least one of those American stations, once ISS is gone.

“We are proud to partner with Airbus Defence and Space to bring Starlab to life. Our vision is to create the most accessible infrastructure in space to serve the scientific community,” said Dylan Taylor, Chairman and CEO of Voyager Space. “This partnership is unique in that it engages international partners in the Commercial Destinations Free-Flyer program. Working with Airbus we will expand Starlab’s ecosystem to serve the European Space Agency (ESA) and its member state space agencies to continue their microgravity research in LEO.”

Unlike ISS, where profit was not a motive, Voyager has to make money on its Starlab space station. If Europe wants in, it needs to provide Voyager something, and this deal is apparently part of that contribution. I also suspect that high level negotiations occurred within NASA, ESA, and Voyager to make this deal happen so that Europe would continue to have access to at least one of the American stations.

Voyager Space signs cooperative deal with Azerbaijan

Capitalism in space: Voyager Space, the subsidiary of Nanoracks that is building its Starlab private space station, has signed a cooperative agreement with Azercosmos, Azerbaijan’s space agency.

The press release is very vague about what the deal entails.

This strategic multi-year collaboration paves the way for Azercosmos and Voyager Space to proactively develop mutually beneficial space infrastructure, technology, and manufacturing initiatives, research programs, and further opportunities for innovation. With the potential to exchange experience and knowledge, the organizations will focus on commercial and educational opportunities in-country to foster a thriving local space ecosystem.

I suspect it will eventually lead to Azerbaijan sending research payloads to Starlab, once it is in orbit and operational.

The number of recent deals made by American private space companies, either to fly foreign astronauts in space, provide payload space on planetary missions, or provide space station capabilities for foreign science research, is beginning to be difficult to count. With at least four different American private space stations under construction, with at least one more proposed, the rush to sign up customers by these companies is accelerating.

Expect the business to be very brisk once these get launched. It appears that practically every government on Earth wants to claim it has a space program, and buying space and seats from these American commercial companies is going to be the quickest and cheapest way to do it.

Hilton chosen to design hotel suites on Nanoracks’ Starlab private space station

Nanoracks' Starlab space station
Nanoracks’ Starlab space station

Capitalism in space: Hilton has been chosen to design the hotel suites inside the Starlab private space station that Nanoracks is building and hopes to launch sometime this decade.

Voyager and Hilton will partner in the areas of architecture and design, leveraging Hilton’s word-class creative design and innovation experts, to develop Space Hospitality crew headquarters aboard Starlab, including communal areas, hospitality suites, and sleeping arrangements for the astronauts.

The announcement was made by Voyager Space, the Nanoracks’ division that is building Starlab, and already has a $160 million development contract from NASA.

NASA awards contracts to three private space station projects

Capitalism in space: NASA today announced development contract awards to three different private space station projects.

  • Nanoracks Starlab concept won $160 million. Partners include Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin.
  • Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef project was awarded $130 million, partnering with Sierra Space, Boeing, and Redwire.
  • Northrop Grumman won $125.6 million on a concept based on upgrades to its Cygnus freighter.

All three contracts are Space Act agreements, designed by NASA to jumpstart the companies and their design efforts. All three are in addition to the effort by Axiom to build its own ISS modules that will eventually detach to form its own independent station.

That’s four private American space stations now in the works. All are aiming to launch before this decade is out.

Nanoracks and Lockheed Martin to partner in building commercial space station

Capitalism in space: The companies Nanoracks and Lockheed Martin have announced that they have formed a partnership to build their own private commercial space station, dubbed Starlab.

Nanoracks, its majority owner Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin, will collaborate on the development of a commercial space station as others in industry warn of a potential space station gap.

Nanoracks said Oct. 21 that it was partnering with Lockheed Martin and Voyager Space on a commercial space station called Starlab. Nanoracks will be the prime contractor with Voyager handling strategy and investment and Lockheed serving as the manufacturer and technical integrator.

Starlab would consist of a docking node with an inflatable module attached to one side and a spacecraft bus, providing power and propulsion, attached to the other side. Starlab will have a volume of 340 cubic meters, about three-eighths that of the International Space Station, and generate 60 kilowatts of power. Starlab will be equipped with a robotic arm and “state-of-the-art” lab, and be able to host four astronauts at a time.

They are aiming for a 2027 launch.

Nanoracks’ commercial airlock installed on ISS

Capitalism in space: Using the robot arm on ISS, astronauts on December 21st installed Nanoracks’ commercial airlock, dubbed Bishop, in its place on the station.

I think this is the second private module installed on ISS, following Bigelow’s inflatable BEAM module. Bishop is for equipment only, and supplements the equipment airlock on the Japanese Kibo module. It is also five times larger, and rather than use hatches, it deploys equipment outside of ISS using the robot arm. Each time Nanoracks wants to use it to deploy a commercial cubesat they will use the arm to unberth Bishop, deploy the satellite through the docking port, and then re-berth it.

Bishop and BEAM are harbingers of the future on ISS. Axiom will be adding its own private modules in ’24. And then there are the upcoming private tourist flights. Both Axiom (using Dragon) and Russia (using Soyuz) have such flights scheduled before the end of ’21.

Assuming the economy doesn’t crash due to government oppression and mismanagement, gradually over the next decade expect operations on ISS and future stations to shift from the government to commercial private operations, aimed at making profits instead of spending taxpayer money.

European satellite designed to test space junk removal released from ISS

Europe’s RemoveDEBRIS satellite was released from ISS yesterday in preparation for its testing a variety of technologies for removing and deorbiting space junk.

The article at the link does a terrible job trying to describe this mission. Better to return to a news story from 2016, when Europe first announced this project. The video from that story, embedded below the fold, does an excellent job detailing the four experiments, which are mostly aimed at testing technologies that could be added to satellites that would make either their capture or deorbit easier.

Maybe the most interesting aspect of this mission however is how it got into space. It was launched as part of a SpaceX Dragon cargo mission. It was deployed by NanoRacks, using its privately developed deployment system attached to Japan’s Kibo module.

Launch from ISS means that the satellite’s deployment and orbit were far more controllable than if it had been launched directly into space as a secondary payload during a rocket launch. NanoRacks is selling this approach commercially, and this satellite is the largest deployed by them to date.
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NanoRacks outlines its private space station plans

Capitalism in space: NanoRacks, which already makes money launching private payloads to ISS, has revealed its plans for building its own private space station using converted Atlas 5 upper stages.

This project was previously called Ixion, but they have dropped that name, and will now call the first station Independence-1.

They have a contract with NASA for the initial development, and hope to convince the agency to pay them to next build a full-size test prototype. The video at the link to me was exceedingly unconvincing however. It shows a robot beginning the process of refurbishing a used upper stage while in orbit, and simplifies the process to an almost ludicrous degree. While I surely believe it can be done, it will not be simple. The difficulties should not be dismissed.

NanoRacks successfully deploys its largest commercial smallsat from ISS

Capitalism in space: NanoRacks today successfully deployed its largest commercial smallsat yet from ISS.

NanoRacks Kaber Deployment Program allows for a larger EXPRESS class of satellites to be deployed from the International Space Station, up to 100 kilograms. NanoRacks deploys these Kaber-class satellites currently through the Japanese Experiment Module Airlock, and will shift deployments to the NanoRacks Airlock Module when the Company’s commercial Airlock becomes operational (planned for 2019).

The key here is that NanoRacks is making money providing launch services to smallsats in partnership with ISS and others. They act as the go-between between the smallsat companies and the NASA bureaucracy, thus earning money by simplifying NASA’s generally Byzantine approval and launch process for private satellite companies.

NanoRacks and Moon Express team up for lunar missions

Capitalism in space: The private space company Moon Express has signed an agreement with NanoRacks to help manage its planned lunar commercial missions.

Under the agreement, NanoRacks, a company best known for transporting satellites and other payloads to the International Space Station, will handle sales, marketing and technical support for payloads that will fly on Moon Express’ series of lunar lander missions, starting in early 2018. “The primary goal of our alliance with NanoRacks is to ensure a great customer experience,” said Bob Richards, founder and chief executive of Moon Express, in a statement. “Our companies share a culture of customer focus, and together we will be able to provide end to end support from payload concept to mission operations.”

NanoRacks does similar work for researchers and cubesat manufacturers who want access to ISS. They act as the go-between, bundling the different projects and arranging them with NASA.

Private company to build its own ISS airlock

Capitalism in space: The private company NanoRacks has raised the funds necessary to build its own ISS airlock and install it in 2019.

“The reason we want our own airlock is this airlock is going to be five times bigger than the current airlock, and it’s going to be far more commercial,” Manber said in a Sept. 27 presentation at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia. In addition to satellite deployments and experiments, he said the module will be commercial “real estate” on the station, with the ability to mount payloads on its exterior. “It’s getting us more into the real estate business and space station operations,” he said.

Manber said the module was on track to launch in 2019, carried to the station in the trunk of a SpaceX Dragon cargo resupply spacecraft. A formal manifesting of the payload on a resupply flight is now being finalized, he said, while the airlock itself is being manufactured.

What this suggests to me is that ISS might not go away in 2024, but instead slowly shift to private ownership and operation, all for profit. This deal appears to lay the groundwork for this shift.

NanoRacks and Boeing to build private airlock on ISS

The competition heats up: NASA has signed an agreement with NanoRacks and Boeing to build private commercial airlock to attach to ISS in 2019 and be used for commercial operations.

Commercial opportunities through Airlock begin with cubesat and small satellite deployment from station and include a full range of additional services to meet customer needs from NASA and the growing commercial sector. Currently, cubesats and small satellites are deployed through the government-operated Japanese Kibo Airlock. Additionally, the crew on board may now assemble payloads typically flown in soft-stowage ISS Cargo Transfer Bags into larger items that currently cannot be handled by the existing Kibo Airlock. “We are very pleased to have Boeing joining with us to develop the Airlock Module,” says NanoRacks CEO Jeffrey Manber. “This is a huge step for NASA and the U.S. space program, to leverage the commercial marketplace for low-Earth orbit, on Space Station and beyond, and NanoRacks is proud to be taking the lead in this prestigious venture.”

Beyond station, the Airlock could at some future time, be detached and placed onto another on-orbit platform.

This is part of the overall transition at NASA from government-built and -run to privately-built and -run.

Private company proposes commercial airlock for ISS

The competion heats up: The private company NanoRacks has proposed building a large airlock for ISS which could be used to launch private cubesates while also allowing NASA to eliminate spacewalks by bringing faulty equipment inside for repairs.

For commercial opportunities, NanoRacks has a small satellite launcher, and it is also designing a “haybale” system to launch as many as 192 cubesats at a time. After the airlock is configured, it would be depressurized and sealed. Then a station robotic arm could grab it, move it away from the vehicle, and deploy its payloads.

NASA is also interested in the opportunity to potentially fix large, external components of the space station. Before the space shuttle’s retirement, NASA used the sizable delivery vehicle to stash dozens of replacement pumps, storage tanks, controller boxes, batteries, and other equipment on the station, known as ORUs. When one of these components broke, astronauts would conduct a spacewalk to install a replacement unit.

However sometimes the problem with a broken unit is relatively minor, such as a problematic circuit card. With a larger airlock, damaged components could be brought inside the station, assessed, and possibly fixed, saving NASA the expense of building and delivering a new unit to the station—or losing a valuable spare. Finally, the space agency could use the airlock to dispose of trash that accumulates on station and can be difficult to get rid of.

It is exactly this kind of technology, spurred by the lure of profits, that interplanetary spaceships need if they are going to be maintainable far from home.

Bad training of the astronauts led to the failure of the student experiments recently on ISS.

Bad training of the ISS astronauts by the company supplying the experiments was the reason the student experiments were never turned on.

“Previous crews were given on the ground review and personal interaction prior to launch,” Manber said. “For this mission, the astronaut received hardware training solely via video while on the space station. Clearly, there was a miscommunication resulting from the video instruction.”

ISS to finally get an experimental centrifuge

At last! The ISS is to finally going to get an experimental centrifuge.

I have studied at length all the research done on all the space station ever launched, from Skylab, all the Russian Salyut stations, Mir, and now ISS, and from I could tell, only once was a centrifuge experiment put in space, by the Russians. Though the centrifuge was small and the results inconclusive, they suggested that even the addition of a truly miniscule amount of force could significantly mitigate the effects of weightlessness on plants and materials.

To finally get an experimental centrifuge on ISS is wonderful news. In order to build an interplanetary spaceship as cheaply and as efficiently as possible using centrifugal force to create artificial gravity we need to know the minimum amount of centrifugal force we need. Less energy will probably require less complex engineering, which should also require less launch weight to orbit, lowering the cost in all ways.