A joint venture between US firm Voyager Space and Airbus, Starlab is currently due to launch in 2028. According to ESA, the new agreement will ensure the space agency’s continued access to low Earth orbit (LEO) when the ISS is de-orbited in the early 2030s.
Alongside astronaut missions for ESA member states, the MoU promises ‘sustained long-term research activities’ and ‘commercial business development’ that could include advanced robotics, automation, artificial intelligence, and life sciences. The trilateral agreement, signed at the ESA Space Summit in Seville, also points to a potential ESA-developed European transportation system for both cargo and crew.
“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, ESA director general. “Our teams are looking forward to working closely with the Starlab teams here in Europe and in the US.”
Voyager Space was awarded a $160m Space Act Agreement (SAA) from NASA in December 2021 through Nanoracks, in which it has majority shareholding. Part of NASA’s Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program, the SAA helped set the foundation for Starlab, a continuously crewed, free-flying space station that will serve NASA as well as a global customer base of space agencies, researchers and commercial customers.
The joint venture between Voyager and Airbus was first announced in August 2023, following an initial agreement between the two parties in January 2023, when Airbus was selected by Voyager to provide technical design support for the space station. Starlab is also expected to have a European affiliated joint venture to directly serve the European Space Agency and its member state space agencies.
“At Airbus, we are very pleased that ESA is continuing to look to the future and demonstrating such a keen interest in Starlab,” said Mike Schoelhorn, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space. “Our collaboration on this next-generation space station builds on a long and successful partnership between ESA and Airbus in developing and operating a wide range of crewed and uncrewed spacecraft.”