The Starlab private space station project has chosen SpaceX’s Starship rocket to carry its outpost into orbit. The announcement was made on January 31, 2024, by the team behind the Starlab project, a joint venture between Voyager Space and Airbus.
This comes as part of the initiative to establish private space stations, expecting the retirement of the International Space Station (ISS) around 2030.
Dylan Taylor, Chairman and CEO of Voyager Space, expressed confidence in selecting SpaceX’s Starship, citing the company’s history of success.
SpaceX is renowned for its launches, making it the preferred choice for this venture. Starlab Space LLC, the joint venture formed by Voyager and Airbus, plans to leverage the capabilities of Starship to launch the fully equipped Starlab in a single flight.
SpaceX’s Starship is a next-generation transportation system designed to facilitate human settlement on the Moon and Mars.
Standing at an 400 feet tall, the Starship is the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, capable of carrying up to 150 tons to low Earth orbit.
The rocket has two test flights in April and November 2023 from SpaceX’s Starbase site in South Texas. Starlab represents a step in the transition from government-led space exploration to private enterprises taking a leading role.
NASA has been encouraging the development of such private outposts. The journey towards Starlab’s launch has seen collaborations and joint ventures.
Initially, Voyager Space partnered with Airbus to form Starlab Space LLC. However, changes occurred when Northrop Grumman decided to join the Voyager Space team, leading to the formation of the joint venture between Voyager, Airbus, and Northrop Grumman.
This collaboration also brought European aerospace giant Airbus into the fold, enhancing the technical expertise and capabilities of the Starlab project.
The development of private space stations gained momentum with NASA’s efforts to support and fund commercial space station concepts.
In December 2021, NASA allocated $415 million to three companies, including Voyager Space’s subsidiary Nanoracks, Blue Origin, and Northrop Grumman, to mature their commercial space station initiatives.
The goal is to ensure a smooth transition and continuity of human presence in low Earth orbit after the ISS is retired.
Starlab’s design modules measures about 26 feet in diameter, twice the size of ISS modules. This sizing has a challenge for launch vehicles, making SpaceX’s Starship the ideal choice due to its lift capacity.
The decision to launch Starlab in a single mission with the objective of de-risking the program, avoiding complex on-orbit assembly procedures.
While the announcement did not specify a target launch date, the goal is to have Starlab operational before 2030.
NASA’s encouragement of private outposts with its strategy to secure alternative habitats for astronauts post-ISS.