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MDA Space joins Starlab Space commercial space station venture

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun4,2024

WASHINGTON — Canadian company MDA Space will join the Starlab Space joint venture developing a commercial space station, providing its space robotics capabilities and expanding the international scope of the partnership.

The companies announced May 29 that MDA Space was the latest strategic partner in Starlab Space, a joint venture established last year by Voyager Space and Airbus Defence and Space. Mitsubishi Corp. became a partner in April.

MDA Space will take an equity stake in Starlab Space, the size of which the companies did not disclose. In return, MDA Space will provide space robotics technologies under its new MDA Skymaker line announced in April that includes robotic arms and interfaces that will operate on the outside of the Starlab space station.

The specific capabilities of the system MDA Space will provide for Starlab will be announced later, Mike Greenley, chief executive of the company, said in an interview, but would include the ability to support station maintenance and manage external payloads as well as any visiting vehicles that would need to be berthed to the station. “The MDA Skymaker line of commercial robotics is absolutely suited for that.”

Matthew Kuta, president of Voyager Space, said in a separate interview that Starlab is designed to limit the amount of external maintenance required. “Our robotic arm is primarily for facilitating docking or for experiments,” he said, “more revenue generating opportunities as opposed to construction or maintenance opportunities.”

Greenley said Starlab is the first commercial space station customer for MDA Skymaker, whose robotic technologies are based on the company’s work developing robotic arms for the space shuttle and International Space Station. A version of the MDA Skymaker technology would also be incorporated on Lunar Dawn, the lunar rover project led by Lunar Outpost that was one of three selected by NASA in April for its Lunar Terrain Vehicle Services program. He added the agreement with Starlab Space is not exclusive, allowing MDA Space to work with other commercial space station companies.

The agreement with Starlab Space fits into MDA Space’s broader strategy. “If you look at the three reasons why people launch things into space, we have a business area aligned with those,” he said: Earth observation, communications and living and working in space. MDA Space builds and operates Earth observation satellites and it is also building the satellites for Telesat’s Lightspeed broadband constellation.

“We’ve now productized our offering to make it more accessible to the commercial market in all three business areas,” he said.

Both Greenley and Kuta emphasized that, by adding MDA Space to the Starlab Space joint venture, they now have representation from all the Western partners in the ISS: the United States, Europe, Japan and Canada.

“We’ve been very focused from the beginning on this strategy to recreate the ISS except, instead of being owned by the government, it’s owned by the leading aerospace and defense corporations within those regions,” Kuta said. That allows Starlab to tap into their technical expertise as well as customer relationships and access to government support.

“In a sense, we’re putting the band back together,” Greenley said.

Working with The Exploration Company

The partnership with MDA Space came a day after Starlab Space announced a separate agreement with The Exploration Company, a European space transportation company. The agreement covers three cargo missions to and from Starlab on the Nyx vehicle that The Exploration Company is developing.

Kuta explained that the agreement is intended to diversify the range of transportation options for Starlab and thus control costs. “If you only had one way to get to your hotel, the pricing probably increases,” he said. “The goal is to have as many different providers there as possible and we’re happy to work with anyone.”

The Exploration Company is a startup that was one of two companies selected by the European Space Agency May 22 for initial study contracts for a commercial cargo service to support the ISS and commercial stations. “The Exploration Company still has a ways to go, but we’d definitely like to see us having a resupply capability from Europe,” he said.

Besides The Exploration Company, Starlab Space has an agreement with Northrop Grumman to use a version of its Cygnus cargo spacecraft. Kuta said the company has also talked with the Indian space agency ISRO to use its upcoming Gaganyaan crewed spacecraft and also will work with SpaceX, whose Starship vehicle will launch Starlab.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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