Airbus Joins Commercial ISS Bid

(Photo by NASA on Unsplash)
(Photo by NASA on Unsplash)

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There are reasons to go to space beyond letting billionaires boldly check something off their bucket list.

Aircraft heavyweight Airbus and US space startup Voyager announced Wednesday they’re teaming up as part of a bid to build a commercial successor to the International Space Station (ISS), with Airbus shouldering Voyager’s former big partner Lockheed Martin out of the way in the process.

Subsidy Quest

The first astronauts to start residing on the ISS went up in 2000, and NASA plans to decommission it in 2031. The next phase of the agency’s history looks like it will play out over multiple commercially funded space stations. The agency has already handed out subsidies to companies just to develop their designs, and firms are scrambling to show their design is the best.

The ISS isn’t a stranger to private and commercial ventures, SpaceX has flown astronauts there and the research conducted onboard is often commercial. The ISS is essentially a big lab that lets you perform research in microgravity, which gives scientific benefits as well as just being plain fun. The question is whether pure commercial activity would be enough to keep the lights on — not to mention the oxygen — in a similar station:

  • Voyager chair Dylan Taylor told the Financial Times that the commercial work being done at the ISS would be enough to financially support a space station.
  • Airbus’ Defence and Space executive Mike Schoellhorn told the FT there are other ways to bolt on extra selling points. “Don’t forget about dual use, military use of space stations as well. If you put all that together we are pretty confident,” he said.

Stiff Upper Lip: The UK’s space ambitions stalled this year with the failed satellite launch and subsequent bankruptcy of Virgin Orbit. Undeterred, the UK Space Agency announced Wednesday it’ll provide £15 million ($19 million) in funding Earth Observation tools. No doubt because getting an accurate weather forecast is of national importance.