You will likely recognize the name “Nanoracks” for its Bishop airlock that launched to the International Space Station last year, but this project will forever cement the name “Nanoracks” in the history books. Today, Nanoracks introduced Starlab, the first-ever continuously crewed, commercial, free-flying space station.
The station, Starlab, is a collaboration between Nanoracks, Lockheed Martin, and Voyager Space.
The joint team will develop the station, which, much like the ISS, will serve as a research laboratory in low-Earth orbit. Space continues to be a growing frontier. As research continues, and space tourism begins to expand, the ISS simply won’t be able to support as many missions as want to fly to it. We already see this bottle-neck between SpaceX crew missions, Dragon cargo missions, and (eventually) Starliner missions.
NASA‘s support for commercial partners in its space efforts has grown tremendously over previous years, with the success of the Commercial Crew Program illustrating the value of private companies in space. The agencies recently announced CLD (Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Destination) project, showing its support for commercial space stations as the ISS ages and is eventually retired.
In a press release, Nanoracks said,
Nanoracks will prime the Starlab development effort, leveraging over a decade of experience as the pathfinder of and global leader in commercial ISS utilization. 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.
This team of strong players in the industry hopes to have the station operation in just six years, 2027. The seems like a loft goal, but hopefully, one they can achieve, as the International Space Station is nearing retirement, quite possibly in 2030.
The two space stations currently in operation are the International Space Station (used by NASA, Roscosmos, the ESA, the CSA, and JAXA) and the much more recent Tiangong station, by the Chinese Manned Space Agency.