The International Space Station (ISS) hasn’t been retired yet, but private space companies are already vying for a spot in low Earth orbit to take its place. A California-based startup wants to be the first to put a commercial space station in orbit, assigning SpaceX as its launch partner.
Vast is planning to launch Haven-1 on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to low Earth orbit no earlier than August 2025, the company announced on Wednesday.
Following its deployment, the company wants to send a four-person crew to the space station on a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, where they will spend up to 30 days in orbit. “A commercial rocket launching a commercial spacecraft with commercial astronauts to a commercial space station is the future of low-Earth orbit, and with Vast we’re taking another step toward making that future a reality,” Tom Ochinero, senior vice president of Commercial Business at SpaceX, said in the statement.
Vast is a relative newcomer to the industry, specializing in space habitation. The company was founded last year by billionaire Jed McCaleb, who racked up his fortune through blockchain development and cryptocurrency and is now estimated to be worth $2.5 billion, according to Forbes. Earlier this year, Vast relocated to Long Beach, California and became the newest member of the so-called “Space Beach.”
Vast’s first module is only about 33-feet long (10 meters) and 12.5 feet wide (4 meters), just enough to fit four people. Haven-1 will be its own crewed space station at first, and later connected as a module to a larger space station that is currently under development. Vast wants to build a 328-foot-long (100 meters) multi-module, which will spin to produce artificial gravity. The first module is small enough to fit on a Falcon 9, but larger future components will need lifting from SpaceX’s massive rocket, Starship. The heavy-lift launch vehicle had a less-than-perfect orbital test flight in April and is awaiting clearance to fly again.
Vast is seeking to be the first company to send a space station to low Earth orbit, but there are other companies hoping to take that spot as well. Axiom Space is planning to deploy the first module of its space station in 2025, followed by a second module in 2026. The race to build the world’s first commercial space station is officially on.
The ISS has occupied low Earth orbit for more than 20 years with a rotating crew of astronauts and new research being sent up to the orbiting station on a frequent basis. NASA is planning to retire the ISS in 2031, deorbiting the space station and crashing it in the Pacific Ocean. The space agency is looking to rely on its commercial partners to develop an alternative to the space station. In December 2021, NASA awarded separate contracts to Blue Origin, Nanoracks, and Northrop Grumman to develop space station concepts that will serve both public and private interests in space.
The future of low Earth orbit appears crowded, with a host of government-owned and commercial entities hoping to occupy space in the orbital arena. As the process begins to unfold, the task of regulating Earth’s orbit will also be up for debate.
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