European Space Agency signs agreement with Starlab developers to ensure continued access to low Earth orbit

The European Space Agency signed a new agreement with the developers of the Starlab commercial space station, with the goal of establishing a “sustained access to space for Europe,” the group said in a statement.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between ESA, Voyager Space and Airbus Defense and Space will initially focus on how ESA can use Starlab for astronaut missions and as a long-term research and commercial platform. The new agreement was signed during the European Space Summit in Seville, Spain.

The teams will also explore how ESA can use Starlab as part of an “end-to-end” ecosystem that includes Europa’s cargo and crew capsules, similar to how SpaceX’s Dragon capsule provides astronauts and cargo transportation to and from the International Space Station. ESA announced earlier this week that it is establishing a new initiative aimed at soliciting a cargo capsule from European companies, which could later be developed to carry a crew.

The International Space Station is currently scheduled to retire in 2030. Instead of replacing the station with another government-run and funded station, NASA has decided to seed privately owned stations that it can use as anchor tenants. In December 2021, the space agency awarded more than $400 million in total to three private station plans, including Voyager Space’s Starlab.

This agreement with ESA is not entirely a surprise; Starlab is a joint venture between Airbus and Voyager, so it already has strong ties to Europe (Airbus is a European multinational). In a statement, Airbus Defense and Space CEO Mike Schoellhorn noted this long-standing relationship: “Our collaboration on this next-generation space station builds on a long and successful partnership between ESA and Airbus in developing and operating a wide range of crewed and uncrewed spacecraft,” he said.

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