Lockheed Martin
Concept illustration of Starlab commercial space station, to be built by Lockheed for Nanoracks.

Lockheed to Build New Commercial Space Station

Dec. 5, 2021
A NASA contract will fund construction of Starlab – a low-earth orbit research center and tourist destination due to be operational by 2027.

Lockheed Martin is part of a consortium now contracted by NASA to design the Starlab commercial space station, as part of the agency’s Commercial Low-Earth Orbit development program. Starlab will be the anchor for NASA’s initiative to promote the commercial space economy and provide scientific and crew capabilities prior to the retirement of the International Space Station.

Starlab, unveiled in October, will be owned and operated by Nanoracks, a commercial space-services provider whose major stakeholder is Voyager Space. Those two companies are the other participants in the Starlab consortium.

The NASA contract is valued at $160 million, and Starlab is scheduled to be ready for service in 2027. The overall cost of Starlab has not been reported.

“To receive this support from NASA validates over a decade of Nanoracks’ hard work forging commercial access to space, bringing over 1,300 commercial payloads from 30 nations to the ISS,” stated Dr. Amela Wilson, CEO at Nanoracks. “This opportunity opens far-reaching possibilities for critical research and commercial industrial activity in LEO.”

The Starlab project is seen replacing the ISS, which will conclude its mission by 2030. In addition, Starlab backers see it as a destination for space tourists.

Space research is the primary proposition, with four laboratories: a biology lab, plant habitation lab, physical science and materials research lab, and an open workbench area.

The space station – to be built by Lockheed – will be a large, inflatable habitat with a separate metallic docking node. At 340-m3 it will house four persons, with a 60-kW power and propulsion element and a large robotic arm for handling cargo and payloads.

NASA’s investment will be supplemented by “customer pre-buy opportunities” and public-private partnerships. The agency will have the opportunity to purchase crew and payload services on Starlab through separate services contracts with Nanoracks.

“Starlab is the confluence of Lockheed Martin’s rich space expertise and history, Nanoracks’ innovation, and Voyager’s financial savvy. This team is equipped to aid NASA on its mission to expand access to LEO and to enable a transformative commercial space economy,” stated Lisa Callahan, v.p. and general manager, Commercial Civil Space at Lockheed Martin.