French aerospace company Airbus and U.S.-based Voyager Space said Wednesday they will begin working even closer to build a private version of the International Space Station (ISS).
The companies stated their initial plans in January, with Airbus providing design support for Voyager's Starlab. The project is one of three pre-selected by NASA for a potential commercial successor to the ISS.
While shareholdings and financial details were not disclosed, Airbus will now become a core partner in the newly planned venture to develop, build and operate the orbital research post, expanding Europe's role in the project.
Starlab is one of three private concepts designed to replace the aging ISS, a football field-sized orbital laboratory that has continuously housed crews for more than 22 years.
The orbiter’s original blueprint included an inflatable habitat designed by Lockheed Martin, but after the switch to the new structure, Lockheed's role has effectively been replaced by Airbus, which built the Columbus module for the ISS.
"Lockheed will likely still have a role to play somewhere within the supply chain," Dylan Taylor, CEO of Voyager Space told reporters. Lockheed remains an important customer for Voyager and Starlab will remain U.S.-led, he added.
"There will be contributions coming from Europe, but there will definitely be an assembly and large contributions coming from the U.S."
Voyager, through its subsidiary Nanoracks, won $160 million from NASA in 2021 to support Starlab development under the agency's Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development program.
Meanwhile, Axiom Space and a team led by Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin are developing rival stations under the program.
NASA plans to retire the ISS in 2030 and will then rely on private companies to host its scientific research in low-Earth orbit.
"It will occur before the ISS decommissioning; we're highly confident of that. Whether it's going to be late 2027, early 2028, or late 2028 we're still working out those details," Taylor said.
Voyager Space and Airbus have said Starlab would deploy in 2028. A launch provider is expected to be announced in the coming months.
Reuters contributed to this report.