Commercial space station scheduled for 2025

SpaceX and Vast want to launch a commercial space station within the next 2 years
12 May 2023

Interview with 

David Whitehouse


The aerospace startup Vast and Elon Musk’s SpaceX have announced that they intend to launch the first commercial space station in 2025. Nobody could dispute Vast’s confidence in the project, with the company reportedly selling tickets for its first crewed mission. So, what should we make of the bold proposal? Dr David Whitehouse is a space scientist and author of Space 2069: the future of spaceflight...

David - It's a very interesting project, and it will probably go very far because Vast Space are integrated with SpaceX, Elon Musk's outfit. Now, lots of American companies and startups have interests in building small space stations, and most of them are touting for investment and for business. But Vast Space have got Elon Musk on side. So they have a small space station, which is going to be launched by a Falcon Nine Rocket. Initially uncrewed. It's going to be tested in space. And this is not a very big satellite space station. It's the size of a moderately sized satellite, a communication satellite, for instance. So it's cope-able for a small company. And then eventually, I suppose the year or so later when it's tested out that we use a Dragon capsule that's already taken astronauts into orbit, as a sort of mini space station and to and from the Space Station, to go up and visit it.

Chris - Does this seem realistic? Two years away seems an incredibly optimistic timescale, or have they been doing so much work in the background that they are pretty confident they're going to deliver?

David - Well, this does seem to be credible, although you are quite right. Who knows how long it will take, because there could be some showstoppers along the way. And until it's actually ready to fly you are never really quite sure. But they have got a working relationship with SpaceX now. They've built their Dragon capsule, as I said, which can fly independently in space for several days. And a crew of four went up in the last year or so and just orbited the Earth without docking with anybody and had a great mission. So they have, if you like, the backup of SpaceX, they don't have to reinvent the wheel, they don't have to redesign life support systems and heating systems, because presumably what will happen is when a crew visit Haven One, Vast Space's first Space Station, they will live in the Dragon Capsule and only go through the airlock to Haven One to carry out experiments. So they're using a lot of what SpaceX has already developed.

Chris - What sort of experience are they offering? Because when you say this is satellite sized, it sounds pretty cramped.

David - Oh, yes. It will be nothing like the International Space Station. This will be a very small module, much smaller than the modules in which the astronauts live on the ISS. So it'll be limited to simple experiments, but what they're hoping is, if it's a success, they can start building it up module by module and expanding it in the same way that the International Space Station did. But clearly it's going to be very much more limited in terms of who can go there, how much equipment you can take up there, what you could bring back compared to the ISS, which is a tremendous facility. But of course the ISS is in its final years. It's going to be closed by 2030 at the latest, and Russia may pull out years before that. We don't know.

Chris - Do they see a gap in the market then? Is that the motivation for doing this? They see a space, if you will, opening up and the decline of the ISS, the decline of international relations with previous collaborators like Russia, meaning that there is this opportunity which this collaboration is seeking to plug into.

David - You are quite right. There is an opportunity here because the ISS is in its declining years because we can see an end to it because of the Russian components. Although Russian collaboration on the ISS has been going on almost independently of the international situation, the Russian components are beyond their useful lifetime in many respects, and they're starting to break down more. They're starting to show their age. So the Space Station is going to wind down in a few years time and become increasingly difficult to maintain. And NASA has said that it wants to see, and it will help fund, and it's already given money to three big aerospace corporations to develop smaller specialised space stations to do research into materials, into biology, into technology development, and even small hotels. So Vast Space's Haven One fits into, if you like, what could be a fleet of smaller space stations specialising in a way that the ISS was a mega space station, which did almost everything.

Chris - So it does have both a sort of commercial slash research aspect and a recreational aspect. They're eager to plug into both.

David - They are indeed because people will pay. There are, as we've seen with SpaceX, with other companies, there are people with a great deal of money who are willing to pay to go into space. SpaceX has already had several missions with its Dragon capsule, also to the Space Station, or as an independent free flying capsule with people who are eminently qualified to carry out research, to fly and command the capsule who are willing to pay a great deal of money for the mission. So as well as the founder of Vast Space, who I gather is a cryptocurrency billionaire, putting in $300 million of his own money. He could get probably more than that from a crew of four or several crude missions with people paying to go buy a seat.


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