Northrop Grumman to join Starlab commercial space station project

Northrop Grumman abandoned plans to create its own commercial orbital station. Instead, it will join the competing Starlab project.

Concept of the Starlab orbital station. Source: Nanoracks/Lockheed Martin/Voyager Space

In 2021, NASA signed contracts with Blue Origin, Nanoracks and Northrop Grumman to develop commercial orbital station projects as part of the CLD (Commercial Low Earth Orbit Destinations) program. They should ensure the continuous presence of American astronauts in low Earth orbit after the ISS operation is completed.

Northrop Grumman proposed to create a station from modules based on the Cygnus spacecraft used to supply the ISS. It was to be used for scientific research, industrial experiments and space tourism.

However, now Northrop Grumman has decided to abandon its application in favor of the Starlab project. It is being developed by a team consisting of Nanoracks, its main shareholder Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin, as well as the recently joined European aerospace giant Airbus Defense and Space. The project involves the creation of a station consisting of an inflatable living module, power and propulsion compartments, a laboratory installation and a robotic arm manipulator. Its crew will consist of four astronauts. They will be able to engage in both scientific research and commercial operations. At the moment, the launch of the station is scheduled for 2027.

As for Northrop Grumman, after joining Starlab, it will undertake the creation of a Cygnus modification equipped with a fully autonomous docking system. The company can also take part in the design of the station.

NASA called the joining of Northrop Grumman to Starlab a positive event that would strengthen the project. As for the contract issued to the company, it managed to receive 36 out of 125 million dollars. The remaining funds will be redistributed by NASA among other projects.

It is worth noting that, according to unofficial data, Blue Origin is no longer interested in creating a commercial orbital station and plans to focus on developing a lunar spacecraft. In this regard, the fate of the Orbital Reef project, which is being developed by Jeff Bezos’ company together with Sierra Space, is also in question.

Concept of the Orbital Reef space station. Source: Orbital Reef

Currently, it is unknown whether Sierra Space, in the event of Blue Origin’s leaving, will continue to develop Orbital Reef alone, join the Nanoracks or Axiom Space projects, or completely abandon plans to create a commercial orbital station. 

According to

Follow us on Twitter to get the most interesting space news in time