The stars were aligned for this launch deal.
"SpaceX's history of success and reliability led our team to select Starship to orbit Starlab," Dylan Taylor, chairman and CEO of Voyager Space, said in a statement. "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."
Today's announcement didn't give a target launch date. But NASA and Starlab's developers want the four-person commercial station to be up and running before 2030, when the International Space Station (ISS) is expected to cease operations (though that retirement date is apparently not set in stone).
Indeed, NASA has been encouraging the development of private outposts for several years now, so its astronauts will continue to have somewhere to live and work in low Earth orbit after the ISS is gone.
In December 2021, the agency announced it was awarding a total of $415 million to three different companies — Blue Origin, Nanoracks (which is part of Voyager Space) and Northrop Grumman — to help mature their commercial space station concepts. NASA also holds a separate agreement with Houston company Axiom Space, which is working on its own private outpost.
Things have changed a bit since then. For example, Northrop Grumman decided to cease work on its station and join the Voyager Space team, which also brought European aerospace giant Airbus on board. Voyager and Airbus formed a joint venture called Starlab Space LLC, which will build and operate the Starlab station. (The Blue Origin-led team continues to develop its outpost concept, called Orbital Reef.)
Starship is SpaceX's next-generation transportation system, which the company is developing to help humanity settle the moon and Mars. The vehicle has launched twice to date, on test flights in April 2023 and November 2023 from SpaceX's Starbase site in South Texas.
The 400-foot-tall (122 meters) Starship is the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built, capable of hauling up to 150 tons to low Earth orbit. It will send the fully outfitted Starlab up in just one launch, as Taylor noted above.
"Starlab's single-launch solution continues to demonstrate not only what is possible, but how the future of commercial space is happening now," Tom Ochinero, senior vice president of commercial business at SpaceX, said in the same statement.
"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 multiplanetary," Ochinero added.
Today's announcement didn't specify a launch site for Starlab; Starship may also be flying from Florida's Space Coast when the private outpost is ready to lift off. But Starship may be fated to launch Starlab from Starbase — and perhaps SpaceX can put some of its Starlink broadband satellites on the flight as ridealongs as well.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.
It seems to me that of the 400 tonnes of the ISS. some of it must be somehow useable in orbit. After all the expense to lift it there, it would be a waste to burn it up. Anyone know what might be repurposed/reused? Solar panels? Would Starlab find it commercially viable to use anything from ISS?Reply
I guess you can guess what happens to a closed space, even a high-tech one, when several people breathe, eat, exercise, bathe, excrete, conduct experiments, etc., in it for decades? About solar panels which adsorb decades solar and other cosmic radiation.Jubal said:It seems to me that of the 400 tonnes of the ISS. some of it must be somehow useable in orbit. After all the expense to lift it there, it would be a waste to burn it up. Anyone know what might be repurposed/reused? Solar panels? Would Starlab find it commercially viable to use anything from ISS?