Airbus Signs Up As Private Space Station Operator

Credit: Voyager Space

Europe’s Airbus Defense and Space is upping its stake in the Voyager Space-led Starlab project, which aims to develop, build and operate a privately owned space station, one of four programs backed by NASA’s commercial low Earth orbit (LEO) development initiative. 

“This transatlantic venture ... aligns the interests of [Airbus] and Voyager and our respective space agencies,” Jean-Marc Nasr, head of Space Systems at Airbus, said in a statement.

The joint venture, announced on Aug. 2, builds on an earlier agreement between Airbus and Voyager Space for Airbus to provide technical design support and expertise for Starlab.

The agreement is subject to applicable regulatory approvals.

The Voyager Space-owned Nanoracks won a $160 million Space Act Agreement (SAA) from NASA in December 2021, setting the stage for the creation of Starlab—a continuously crewed, free-flying space station in LEO designed to serve NASA and other agencies, as well as businesses and researchers.  

NASA is also working with Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and Axiom Space to develop free-flying commercial space stations that the agency can transition to as the International Space Station (ISS) program comes to an end. 

Airbus currently operates the Bartolomeo payload-hosting platform aboard the ISS.

The joint venture with Airbus gives the European Space Agency (ESA) and its member state space agencies a direct route to procure Starlab services, Voyager Space added. 

In June, the Starlab program completed a System Requirements Review, which baselines major space systems, technical readiness and the ability to meet NASA’s mission and safety requirements.

Irene Klotz

Irene Klotz is Senior Space Editor for Aviation Week, based in Cape Canaveral. Before joining Aviation Week in 2017, Irene spent 25 years as a wire service reporter covering human and robotic spaceflight, commercial space, astronomy, science and technology for Reuters and United Press International.