There has been a continuous presence of humans in space since 2000, when the International Space Station became operational.
Now, as the Floating Lab nears its inevitable retirement, questions arise as to what would replace it.
Private companies are looking to commercialize low earth orbit, with space stations that would accommodate tourists, researchers and astronauts.
Meanwhile, government space agencies are focusing more on the Moon, with NASA, China and Russia seeking to build a lunar base.
The National highlights some of the space stations advertised by private companies and governments.
In October, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin announced plans to build a private space station in Earth orbit, called Orbital Reef.
The space tourism company hopes to build a “mixed-use business park” and promises access to media, tourists, astronauts and researchers.
It will be a commercially developed, owned and operated low earth orbit station built in partnership with Boeing, Redwire Space, Sierra Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions and Arizona State University.
âFor over sixty years, NASA and other space agencies have been developing orbital spaceflight and space dwellings, preparing us for commercial takeoff during this decade,â Blue Origin’s Brent Sherwood said at the time of the announcement.
âWe will expand access, reduce costs and provide all the services and amenities needed to standardize spaceflight. A vibrant business ecosystem will thrive in low earth orbit, generating new discoveries, new products, new entertainment and global awareness. “
The plan is to begin operations within this decade, after the launch of a power system, a basic module, a vital habitat and a science module. This would allow the station to accommodate up to 10 people, initially.
Genesis Engineering Solution, an aerospace and technology provider, would deliver single-person spacecraft to the station, allowing people on board to take spacewalks.
Less than a week before Orbital Reef’s announcement, Nanoracks unveiled plans for a commercial space station that would aid scientific research and tourism efforts.
Founded in 2009, Nanoracks is a commercial space company that has sent more than 1,300 research payloads and small satellites to the ISS.
Today, it has partnered with Voyager Space, a space exploration company, and aerospace company Lockheed Martin to build its first free-flight space station, called Starlab.
It would include a large inflatable habitat, designed and built by Lockheed Martin, a metal mooring node, a power and propulsion element, a robotic arm for servicing cargo and payloads, a laboratory to house capabilities of research, science and manufacturing.
Up to four astronauts could occupy the station. The company hopes to start operations by 2027.
Space infrastructure company Axiom plans to launch a commercial module to the ISS that would become its own independent station once the ISS is retired.
The station will provide access to researchers, astronauts and tourists. By 2028, Axiom modules would be ready to detach from the ISS, enabling microgravity research, fabrication, and survival testing.
The first two modules to be launched will each have four crew quarters.
Axiom also plans to launch the first paid crew to the ISS next year.
NASA has ambitious plans to build a station on the orbit of the Moon.
Called the Lunar Gateway, the station would house astronauts before they land on the lunar surface, using a human landing system.
This is part of the space agency‘s deep space exploration plans, which include building a lasting human presence on the Moon as part of the Artemis program, and sending astronauts to Mars from from there in the future.
Plans for the bridge include living quarters and a logistics outpost, a first crew cabin that would provide astronauts with basic life support, and space to prepare for their trip to the lunar surface.
NASA chose SpaceX to deliver cargo and other supplies to the station.
China-Russia lunar station
Earlier this year, China and Russia unveiled plans to build the International Lunar Research Station.
The proposal is to send several Chinese and Russian missions to the Moon over a period of 15 years.
Five installations and nine modules are planned for the station, intended to support long and short missions on the surface and in orbit of the Moon.
The plan includes a facility that would support round-trip transfer between Earth and Moon, lunar orbit, soft landing, takeoff to the lunar surface, and re-entry to Earth.
A long-term above-ground support facility will include a control center, power and supply modules, and thermal management.
The designs also include a “jumping robot” and smart mini-rovers that would move around the surface of the Moon.
The plan is to launch six missions by 2025 during the first phase of construction of the station.
It has been reported that China is also working on a lander for human missions to the Moon.
China has low Earth orbit astronauts who live on Tianhe, the main cabin module of its Tiangong space station.
Updated: November 27, 2021 4:00 a.m.