Space stations are currently all the rage right now, with private companies stepping in to fix what they believe to be deficiencies in the structures available at the moment.
The latest firm to get in on that trend is Lockheed Martin - one of the world’s largest and most popular defense contractors in the world.
Say Hello to Starlab
Even though it made its name in the defense sector, Lockheed Martin has been trying to make waves in the private space industry for a while. Last month, the company announced its most ambitious project yet - a private space station called Starlab. The space station is a collaboration between Lockheed, space exploration firm Voyager Space and Nanoracks; a private in-space services company.
According to some sources, the “Starlab” name is a reference to “Skylab” - the third ever space station in the United States. According to Lockheed’s announcement, the station is expected to host a crew of four astronauts. This means that it would be much smaller - and perhaps even have a lower capacity - than the International Space Station (ISS).
Starlab is expected to offer about 30 percent of its total pressurized space for human stay. With the space station being much smaller than the ISS, Lockheed and its partners believe that they will be able to send the space station up to orbit in just one launch - as opposed to the periodic launches that several other structures tend to go through.
A Baby Brother To the ISS
Details about the space station are still coming to the surface, but the partners have confirmed that Starlab will have a docking node with an inflatable habitat module attached to one side. Created by Lockheed, the module will have a docking node and a crew ferry spacecraft. On the other end will be a spacecraft bus, which will offer sufficient movement propulsion and power to the station.
In general, Starlab should have up to 340 cubic meters in volume and a power generation metric of 60 kilowatts. These are a fraction of the ISS, but having Starlab in space will definitely be a benefit.
While Lockheed is expected to handle most of the space station’s development and operation, the company has picked out some of the best partners available. Nanoracks has a long history of working with NASA to build and design some critical parts of the ISS. At the same time, Voyager will offer an injection of some much-needed capital as well as developmental guidance throughout the project.
All in all, the partners have estimated that Starlab could get into space as early as 2027. The project’s cost - as well as possible financing channels - will be communicated later as the partners still try to iron out the details.
Helping Uncle Sam Stay in Space
Starlab is the latest in the line of proposals from private companies looking to establish a more solid presence in space. NASA has been reportedly evaluating private proposals for space stations as the ISS is nearing decommissioning. The structure, which has been in space for decades, is reportedly in bad shape and will need some fixing. There is also the fact that the agreement between the U.S. government and other countries that operate the ISS is about to run to an end.
NASA is now finding itself in an untenable situation. Its space station is set to come back home in 2024, and countries like China and Russia are pushing hard to get their own space stations up. China has already begun plans, with the first stage of its space station launch already complete.
So, NASA is turning to the private sector. Companies will be able to bid for contracts to design more resilient space stations, ensuring that national security interests in space are preserved.
Besides Starlab, the world recently got introduced to the Orbital Reef - a space station designed by Blue Origin and several other partners. The Orbital Reef has been billed as a commercial space station, allowing customers to have their very own addresses in space. Eventually, businesses, individuals, and governments will be able to sue the facility.
The Orbital Reef is expected to house as many as 10 people - comparable to the ISS. It will offer several services, including transportation, equipment storage, and space living. An onboard crew will be available to cater to customers, and Blue Origin - as well as its partners - will expand the facility’s functionality over time.
A tentative launch date has been set somewhere between 2025 and 2030. But, like Starlab, details about the Orbital Reef are still scanty. Over time, we expect to see more details come out from Blue Origin and its partners.