An agreement, between ESA, Airbus, and Voyager Space, solidifies their joint efforts in the development and utilization of the Starlab space station, marking an important moment in ESA’s commitment to expanding its influence in space exploration.
ESA has taken a further step towards establishing a European commercial presence in the low-Earth orbit (LEO) following the signing of a crucial Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at the ESA Space Summit in Seville.
The MoU represents a shared commitment to advancing science and technology development, as well as exploring the potential for collaboration in the context of post-International Space Station (ISS) LEO destinations.
The collaboration is focused primarily on ensuring sustained access to space for Europe through the use of the state-of-the-art Starlab space station.
ESA and its Member States are poised to benefit from this partnership through access to the station for several astronaut missions, prolonged research activities, and the facilitation of commercial business ventures.
Additionally, the collaborative efforts are poised to contribute to research projects in various domains such as advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, and life sciences, aligning with European science priorities.
Moreover, an integrated “end-to-end” ecosystem, as they call it, is also emphasized in the agreement.
It involves the Starlab space station as a LEO destination, as well as the potential ESA-developed European transportation system for cargo and crew. This strategic move aims to create standardized interfaces, promoting an open-access policy within the space industry.
Everyone is happy
Josef Aschbacher, Director General of ESA, expressed appreciation for the initiative. He emphasized the potential of the Starlab space station in fostering significant European industrial and institutional contributions.
“Our teams are looking forward to working closely with the Starlab teams here in Europe and in the US,” he stated, underlining the anticipation surrounding this critical partnership.
Matt Kuta, President of Voyager Space, said:
“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.”
Last but not least, Mike Schoellhorn, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space:
“At Airbus, we are very pleased that ESA is continuing to look to the future and demonstrating such a keen interest in Starlab. Our collaboration […] builds on a long and successful partnership between ESA and Airbus in developing and operating a wide range of crewed and uncrewed spacecraft.”
In fact, the joint venture has shared legacy in developing and operating various spacecraft. Airbus’ notable contributions to previous missions, including the ISS Columbus Module, Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATV), and the European Service Module (ESM) for Orion, are testaments to their expertise and commitment to advancing space exploration.
It should be noted that the memorandum follows an initial announcement made in August 2023 by Voyager and Airbus, regarding their collaboration.
Importantly, the goal was to establish a transatlantic joint venture aimed at maintaining a continuous human presence in LEO and ensuring a smooth transition for microgravity science and research opportunities in the post-ISS era.
In addition, the Starlab space station is expected to serve ESA and its member state Space Agencies, hoping to solidify Europe’s position in the future commercial space exploration.
Starlab Space LLC is the brainchild of a transatlantic joint venture between Voyager Space and Airbus. With such a collaborative effort, ESA is set to position itself as a key customer in shaping the future of the Starlab project.