January 31, the space enterprise Starlab Space, created jointly by Voyager Space and Airbus Space and Defense, announced an agreement with SpaceX to launch the Starlab space station on the Starship super-heavy rocket. Details of this agreement, including terms and planned launch date, are not yet disclosed. However, the representative Starlab Space noted that they expect to launch the station before the MKS is taken out of operation, which is planned for 2030.
Chairman and Executive Director of Voyager Space Dylan Taylor noted that the choice of Starship as the vehicle for Starlab was driven by SpaceX’s achievements and reliability in the field of frequent launches. He also underlined Voyager Space’s pride in the fact that Starlab will be launched using Starship, considering SpaceX to be the undisputed leader in this field.
Starlab Space is the result of the joint work between Voyager and Airbus, which began after Voyager ended its partnership with Lockheed Martin. Starlab is designed for one-time launch to Earth orbit and consists of a large habitat and laboratory module, to which is attached a smaller service module with power supply and control systems.
The volume and dimensions of Starlab make it possible to launch only on a launch vehicle of the Starship type. Manfred Yaumann, Airbus vice president of low-Earth orbit and suborbital programs, said that the diameter of the module exceeds eight meters, which demands the use of Starship, since no other launch vehicle can accommodate such volume.
The feature of Starlab is the use of stainless steel for the manufacture of modules, such a project became possible thanks to modern rocket-carriers, capable of realizing launches up to 100 tons. This allows the module to be completely assembled on the ground before launch, which serves a significant time saving and cost reduction.
However, cooperation with SpaceX carries some risks in itself, as SpaceX received a non-funded agreement with NASA within the framework of the initiative «Cooperation in the Field of Commercial Space Opportunities-2». Although the details of this agreement are unknown, its connection with the possible use of Starship as a commercial space station highlights potential competition for the joint venture with Starlab Space.
In his statement, SpaceX senior vice president for commercial business Tom Occhinero noted that the choice of Starship to launch Starlab represents an important step in commercial space and ensures humanity’s further presence in low Earth orbit on the way to the creation of habitable bases on other planets.