WASHINGTON — Voyager Space and Airbus Defence and Space have finalized a partnership to develop the Starlab commercial space station, seeking to win customers for it from both sides of the Atlantic.
The companies announced Jan. 9 that they completed the formation of Starlab Space LLC, the joint venture responsible for the design, construction and operation of the station. The companies announced plans to create the joint venture in August.
“This joint venture solidifies our unwavering commitment to reimagining the future of commercial space alongside Voyager, anchoring Starlab to European and American ambitions and pioneering the future of humanity in space,” said Jean-Marc Nasr, head of space systems at Airbus, in a statement.
The companies described the joint venture as a partnership that would leverage both technical and business competencies of the two companies. It is also designed to help win business from both NASA and European customers, like the European Space Agency, as the agencies transition from the International Space Station to commercial facilities like Starlab.
“If you look at the business case for Starlab, you discover very quickly that neither Europe nor the U.S. can do a space station on their own,” said Manfred Jaumann, vice president of low Earth orbit and suborbital programs at Airbus, during a session of the Space Tech Expo Europe conference in Bremen, Germany, in November. “You need partners.”
Voyager, he said, brought to the partnership expertise in commercialization. “The commercialization process in the U.S. is much more advanced” than in Europe, he argued. “They are years ahead of us.”
Airbus, he said, brought to the partnership technical expertise. That includes development of the large habitation module, made of stainless steel, that enables the station to be launched on a single flight of a heavy-lift rocket. “This is a complete game-changer when compared with ISS,” he said.
The companies, in addition to finalizing the joint venture, also completed the system definition review for Starlab. That keeps the program on track to be ready by late this decade, before the scheduled retirement of ISS in 2030.
In addition to the joint venture with Airbus, Voyager also announced in October a partnership with Northrop Grumman, which had been working on its own commercial space station concept. Northrop will provide its own technical support to Starlab and develop a version of its Cygnus cargo vehicle that can dock with Starlab.
As part of that agreement, Northrop terminated a funded Space Act Agreement with NASA for its commercial space station. NASA reallocated the remaining money on that agreement to other companies Jan. 5, including $57.5 million to Voyager Space for additional development milestones and work on the new Cygnus variant.
“Through our joint venture with Airbus, teaming agreements with Northrop Grumman and Hilton, and continued success in meeting critical milestones, Starlab is setting the new standard for commercial space,” Matthew Kuta, president of Voyager Space, said in a statement.
Starlab Space is a U.S. entity, allowing it to work directly with NASA and other government agencies. Voyager and Airbus said in the announcement that it would establish a “European affiliated joint venture” to serve ESA and other European entities. Airbus and Voyager signed a memorandum of understanding with ESA in November to study how Starlab could serve ESA’s needs after the retirement of the ISS.
Starlab Space separately announced Jan. 11 that Jim Bridenstine, the former NASA administrator, will join its board of directors.