, in collaboration with Voyager Space
and Lockheed Martin
, has formed a team to develop the first-ever ‘free flying’ commercial space station.
Known as Starlab, it will be a continuously crewed commercial platform dedicated to ‘conducting critical research, fostering industrial activity, and ensuring continued US presence and leadership in low-Earth orbit’. Starlab is expected to achieve initial operational capability by 2027.
To meet US government, international space agency, and commercial needs in space, these companies will develop Starlab specifically to ‘enable the growing space economy’ and meet ‘pent-up customer demand for space services such as materials research, plant growth, and astronaut activity’.
Jeffrey Manber, Nanoracks CEO and co-founder, said: “Since the beginning, Nanoracks has sought to own and operate a private space station to fully unlock market demand. Our team has spent the last decade learning the business of space stations, understanding customer needs, charting market growth, and self-investing in private hardware on the ISS — like the Bishop Airlock. Nanoracks and our team are excited to work with NASA and our friends across the world as we move forward with Starlab.”
NASA recently announced the ‘Commercial Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) Destination (CLD) project’ to support the development of private space stations, adding that “CLD will stimulate a multi-faceted LEO economy and provide science and crew capabilities in LEO before the International Space Station (ISS) retires”.
Nanoracks will ‘prime’ the Starlab development effort, ‘leveraging over a decade of experience as the pathfinder of and global leader in commercial ISS utilisation’. Voyager Space, the majority shareholder in Nanoracks, will lead strategy and capital investment and Lockheed Martin, a leader in developing and operating complex spacecraft, will serve as the manufacturer and technical integrator.
The basic elements of the Starlab space station include a large inflatable habitat, designed and built by Lockheed Martin, a metallic docking node, a power and propulsion element, a large robotic arm for servicing cargo and payloads, and a ‘state of the art’ laboratory system to host a comprehensive research, science, and manufacturing capability. Starlab will be able to continuously host up to four astronauts for conducting ‘critical science and research’.