Airbus to help with International Space Station replacement

Orbiter is supposed to be ready by 2028, so JV partners had better hurry

Airbus will help build a replacement for the International Space Station (ISS), planned for five years from now.

The European aerospace outfit is already a supplier to European Space Agency's ISS operations and built the Bartolomeo payload platform that eases the process of operating kit on the space station.

The aerospace outfit announced on Tuesday it's been asked to contribute "technical design support and expertise" to build an entire space station, in a joint venture with US outfit Voyager Space.

Voyager Space's subsidiary, Nanoracks, also operates kit on the ISS and even built one of its airlocks. Nanoracks has also won $160 million of US government funding to work on an ISS successor called Starlab.

"We are establishing this joint venture to reliably meet the known demand from global space agencies while opening new opportunities for commercial users," said Matthew Kuta, president at Voyager Space.

Note the mention of "global" space agencies – it's a nod to the fact that the JV means both NASA and the European Space Agency will have a local entity to talk with. And as the ESA already does business in space with Airbus, this looks like a way to ensure that Starlab can fly without encountering policy-driven turbulence caused by a need to work with local suppliers.

No wonder a canned quote from Airbus head of Space Systems Marc Nasr states "This transatlantic venture with footprints on both sides of the ocean aligns the interests of both ourselves and Voyager and our respective space agencies."

Starlab is billed as the "first science park in space" and capable of hosting four astronauts within its 340m3 interior. Another contributor to the project is Hilton – yes, the hotel chain – which is onboard to design pretty and welcoming interiors. Maybe some of those little soaps.

This vessel's design recently completed a Systems Requirements Review – an assessment of whether it meets NASA's mission and safety requirements.

Nanoracks expects to have a Starlab ready for human occupants in 2028 and expects it will attract commercial customers who need a presence in space for either experimental or other activities.

Just what Airbus's "technical design support and expertise" translates to in terms of a presence on Starlab hasn't been disclosed. Perhaps it's some space nous, plus lovely big overhead bins. ®

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