The purpose behind Starlab is twofold. To start, it would serve as a low earth orbit (LEO) tourist destination, which is the next step in the development of a rapidly-expanding industry that seeks to commercialize space. This facet of Starlab’s endgame depends on an inflatable 340-cubic meter habitat developed by Lockheed Martin. As Starlab’s ideation has only just begun, it’s currently unclear what it will look like for space tourists to pay a visit to the station (or how much it will cost).
Starlab’s second purpose is to eventually replace the International Space Station, given that the ISS is set to retire by 2030 due to its $4 billion annual operation cost The core of the outpost, called the George Washington Carver Science Park, will feature four operational departments: a biology lab, plant habitation lab, physical science and materials research lab, and an open workbench area, where up to four astronauts will be able to conduct research at a time. Though Starlab won’t be nearly as roomy as the ISS, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight, Phil McAlister, says researchers “will not need anything near as big and as capable” as the ISS moving forward. Nanoracks’ website claims Starlab will incur significantly lower construction and operational costs than its predecessor, offering benefits to both taxpayers and commercial partners.
Other elements of Starlab’s construction will include a metallic docking node, a 60kW power and propulsion element, and a robotic arm intended to service cargo and payloads. It will also have a payload capacity of 22 cubic meters, equivalent to that of the ISS.
“We’re excited to be part of such an innovative and capable team—one that allows each company to leverage their core strengths,” said Lisa Callahan, Vice President and General Manager of Commercial Civil Space at Lockheed Martin in the press release. “Lockheed Martin’s extensive experience in building complex spacecraft and systems, coupled with Nanoracks’ commercial business innovation and Voyager’s financial expertise allows our team to create a customer-focused space station that will fuel our future vision. We have invested significantly in habitat technology which enables us to propose a cost-effective, mission-driven spacecraft design for Starlab.”