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Northrop joins Starlab plan to replace ISS

Northrop Grumman is set to drop plans to develop its own commercial space station to instead collaborate on the Starlab project.

The station, led by Voyager Space, is also supported by rival primes Lockheed Martin and Airbus.

Starlab has been in development for several years, with Voyager winning a contract from NASA for commercial low-Earth orbit (LEO) development in 2021, worth $160 million.

The contract is part of NASA’s plan to future-proof orbital space operations once the International Space Station is retired in 2030.


NASA plans to transition its space activities to using commercial space stations such as Starlab or Axiom Space’s planned space station.

On Wednesday, Voyager said it would work with Northrop to develop technology that would allow the prime’s Cygnus spacecraft to autonomously dock with Starlab, providing cargo services.

“Autonomous docking – the ability for two spacecraft to dock independently from human controllers – is a critical technology enabling complex in-orbit and deep space operations,” said Voyager Space in a statement.

“Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft will be utilised to deliver pressurised cargo to Starlab over an initial five-year period to support future human spaceflight missions.


“The Cygnus spacecraft has completed 19 missions, delivering over 138,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS.

“Cygnus has already demonstrated several advanced capabilities, including the ability to function as a laboratory while docked to ISS, deploy satellites, and re-boost the station’s orbit.”

The Starlab space station is expected to include a docking node and bus, and an inflatable module that will be able to house up to four astronauts at one time.

It comes after Space Connect reported in January that Airbus would work with Voyager on Starlab, providing technical expertise in the design and support of the space station.

“This collaboration is an important step in making Starlab a reality, providing a foundation for long-lasting European and American leadership in space,” said Airbus’ executive vice-president of space systems, Jean-Marc Nasr.

His sentiments were echoed by Dylan Taylor, chairman and chief executive of Voyager Space, who released a statement regarding the partnership.

“Working with Airbus, we will expand Starlab’s ecosystem to serve the European Space Agency (ESA) and its member state space agencies to continue their microgravity research in LEO.”

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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