ESA strikes deal to ensure ongoing access to the Starlab space station

10 Nov 2023

Head of Space Systems at Airbus Jean-Marc Nasr, ESA director general Josef Aschbacher and president of Voyager Space Matthew Kuta sign a MOA. Image: ESA

Developed by Airbus and Voyager Space, Starlab is expected to replace the International Space Station after launching at the end of this decade.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed an agreement with the developers of Starlab, a space station to replace the International Space Station, to establish “sustained access” for Europe into low-Earth orbit at the end of this decade.

This means that astronauts from the ESA and space programmes of its member states can access the Starlab space station for research and commercial purposes, from advanced robotics and artificial intelligence to life sciences and more.

According to the memorandum of understanding signed yesterday (9 November), the ESA will have a complete “end-to-end” system with the Starlab space station as a low-Earth orbit destination as well as a potential European cargo and crew transportation system.

“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,” said ESA director general Josef Aschbacher.

A joint venture between France’s Airbus and US-based Voyager Space, Starlab is intended to replace the International Space Station (ISS) at the end of this decade.

The transatlantic joint venture will see greater US and European collaboration in space research and exploration. Both NASA and the ESA will use Starlab to meet space research demands, as will a host of other national agencies from around the world.

“This agreement with ESA is critical as we continue to foster international collaboration in the space domain and move towards succeeding the International Space Station with Starlab,” said Matthew Kuta, president of Voyager Space.

“We look forward to working with Airbus and ESA to extend Europe’s footprint in space and ensure they remain a leader in the new generation of commercial space exploration.”

Continuously occupied by humans for nearly 23 years now, the ISS is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. The orbital laboratory is co-operatively run by the US, Europe, Russia, Canada and Japan and is the largest single structure humans ever put into space.

It is funded largely by NASA at a cost of $3bn per year, roughly a third of the agency’s human spaceflight budget. As od May 2022, individuals from 20 countries have visited the ISS, mostly from the US and Russia, the latter of whom will continue to participate in the programme until 2028.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic