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In the last year, several space-related companies have made major breakthroughs related to space travel. Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic have each demonstrated what the future of space may offer. Likewise, dozens of highly-advanced space and technology companies that want to provide an array of services are jockeying for position. But one thing will be required for all of these companies to excel in space, and that’s a commercial space station. Destinations in space and space habitats will be essential for a variety of activities. This not only includes scientific research and tourism but also manufacturing and even media entertainment. Fortunately, several innovative companies are taking on this challenge.

(Read more about Virgin Galactic winning the billionaire space race in this Bold story.)

The reason that a commercial space station is important is because the current International Space Station will soon be retired. Similarly, most expect a boom in space-related activities in the coming decade. Certainly, space transportation is a rate-limiting factor in this regard. But once this has been resolved, space habitats will be required in order to advance discovery further. In this regard, roughly a dozen companies have already made proposals for creating a commercial space station. And while all may not succeed, it’s clear that the orbital real estate market is heating up. In fact, by decade’s end, there’s likely to be a number of space habitats to support a burgeoning space industry.

“One of our key theses for the industry is that the last 10 years have been defined by building access to space, the next 10 years will be about destinations.” – Dylan Taylor, CEO of Voyager Space

Collaboration Is the Key to Commercial Space Station Development

Without question, the International Space Station has played a major role in the advancement of space technologies. But the days of NASA and other government entities providing sole support for these endeavors have come to an end. Instead, major entities are partnering in an effort to share not only expertise but funding support as well. Space transportation companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin can make substantial contributions to the development of space habitats. But they are unable to go it alone from both a financial and technical expertise perspective. Collaborative alliances therefore make sense, which is exactly what many current commercial space station projects are doing.

To cartoon dudes chilling in a space station
The next commercial real estate boom is going to be inside an orbiting commercial space station.

Of course, NASA is playing a role in supporting the development of space habitats for the future. As part of its Commercial Low earth Orbital Destinations program, NASA has committed to $400 million in investments. But already, nearly a dozen applications for this support have been submitted by commercial space station projects. Plus, even if awarded to a single project, a significant amount of additional funding would be required. Naturally, companies realize this, which is why numerous partnerships have since formed. And thus far, it appears three major groups appear most likely to be among the first to develop a commercial space station.

“The station will open the next chapter of human space exploration and development by facilitating the growth of a vibrant ecosystem and business model for the future.” – Statement by Blue Origin

Partnerships Pursuing Orbital Space Habitats

In the last year, a few notable partnerships have announced their plans to build a commercial space station. In each case, key players bring their own unique expertise to the table in an effort to expedite the process. With this in mind, three major groups look to be among those taking an early in in creating space habitats in low-orbital space.

  • Sierra Space Project – Sierra Space is a division of the Sierra Nevada Corporation. Recently, it announced plans for a commercial space station called Orbital Reef, which can host up to 10 people. Described as an off-world, mixed-use business park, Orbital Reef has several contributors. This includes Blue Origin, which will provide core modules, utility systems, and its New Glenn launch system. Other notable partners include Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering, and Arizona State University. Each brings specific value to the table ranging from station operations to technical and research guidance.
  • Axiom Space Project – Interestingly, Axiom Space has tremendous experience in house in supporting space habitats. It has been involved in supporting NASA’s International Space Station for several years. In addition, the company served as a service provider for SpaceX Dragon’s recent missions, brokering passage and training space travelers. Now, Axiom Space has raised $150 million to develop its own commercial space station. Though its approach is not highly publicized, it’s likely it will continue to partner with SpaceX. It has projected it will offer space habitats by 2024.
  • Starlab Project – Another project with the goal of commercial space station development is Starlab, which has 3 key players. Lockheed Martin is involved and will provide technical expertise related to operations and integrations. In addition, Nanoracks, which has also been intimately involved in the International Space Station, will contribute to design and construction. And lastly, Voyager Space, which is the majority owner of Nanoracks, will provide private funding support and capital. Starlab is expected to offer space habitats for commercial use by 2027.

 

“We do not want a space station gap. Everybody in the industry, in the community, understands that we cannot have a period where the United States lacks a space station, or space stations, in low Earth orbit.” – Jeffrey Manber, CEO of Nanoracks

An Understandably Pricey Real Estate Market

The investments and capital required to realize even a single commercial space station are tremendous. For this reason, funding from multiple sources will be essential. This will not only require partnerships and NASA support but additional private and public investments as well. Regardless, it is essential that space “real estate” be developed in order for the space economy to become a reality. Numerous companies appreciate this, which is why various options for space habitats are being proposed. It will certainly be interesting to see which of these come to fruition in the coming years.

 

Curious about the monetization of sub-orbital travel? Read more about Bold Business’ Space Economy series here!





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