Monday, February 26, 2024

SpaceX’s Starship to launch Starlab space station to low-Earth orbit

Starlab Space, a planned transatlantic joint venture between Voyager Space and Airbus, has selected SpaceX’s giant Starship rocket to launch the Starlab commercial space station to low-Earth orbit (LEO).

SpaceX’s fully reusable transportation system, Starship, will be used for this mission, which can carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and beyond. Starship will launch Starlab in a single mission before decommissioning the International Space Station (ISS), which is scheduled for 2030.

Instead of replacing the ISS with an ISS II, the plan is to switch to a fleet of smaller, privately owned, and operated orbital outposts, and Starlab is one of them. The Starship’s up to 150-tonne payload capacity will put the Starlab into LEO as one complete unit that can be deployed before the arrival of its four-person crew.

“SpaceX’s history of success and reliability led our team to select Starship to orbit Starlab,” said Dylan Taylor, Chairman and CEO of Voyager Space. “SpaceX is the unmatched leader for high-cadence launches, and we are proud Starlab will be launched to orbit in a single flight by Starship.”

NASA has been encouraging the development of private outposts for years to provide astronauts with a place to live and work in low Earth orbit after the International Space Station (ISS) is decommissioned. Recently, the agency awarded a total of $415 million to three companies – Blue Origin, Nanoracks (part of Voyager Space), and Northrop Grumman – to help mature their commercial space station concepts.

However, Northrop Grumman joined the Voyager Space team, which partnered with Airbus to form a joint venture called Starlab Space LLC to build and operate the Starlab station. Meanwhile, the Blue Origin-led team continues working on its outpost concept, Orbital Reef.

As a continuously crewed, free-flying space station, Starlab will serve a global customer base of space agencies, researchers, and companies, ensuring a continued human presence in LEO and a seamless transition of microgravity research from the International Space Station into the new commercial space station era. Starlab will launch on a single flight, be fully outfitted on the ground, and be ready to host four crew members permanently in LEO to conduct microgravity research and advanced scientific discovery.

“Starlab’s single-launch solution continues to demonstrate not only what is possible but also how the future of commercial space is happening now,” said Tom Ochinero, Senior Vice President of Commercial Business at SpaceX. “The SpaceX team is excited for Starship to launch Starlab to support humanity’s continued presence in low-Earth orbit on our way to making life multi-planetary.”

The announcement didn’t mention where Starlab will be launched from, but it’s possible that Starship might also take off from Florida’s Space Coast once the private outpost is ready. However, it’s also possible that Starship may launch Starlab from Starbase instead. Additionally, SpaceX may consider sending some of its Starlink broadband satellites on the mission as well.