SpaceX’s Starship LEO Crewed Space Station: A Glimpse into the Future

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have outlined a series of milestones in their Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities 2 (CCSC2) agreement, with the ultimate goal of advancing commercial space-related efforts and developing a robust and competitive U.S. commercial economy in low Earth orbit (LEO). The agreement was effective as of May 31, 2023.

One of the key milestones in this agreement is the development of Starship as an in-space LEO habitation module, which is expected to reach its preliminary design review (PDR) stage by Q2 2028.

Milestone 13: Starship LEO Crewed Space Station PDR

Milestone 13 focuses on the preliminary design review of Starship as an in-space LEO habitation module. This review will assess the feasibility of Starship serving as a crewed space station in LEO, including relevant constituent elements such as ground support and operations, crew transportation concepts, and supporting infrastructure. The success criteria for this milestone are the completion of the preliminary design review and its approval by SpaceX management.

The Integrated LEO Architecture

The integrated LEO architecture, as described in the CCSC2 agreement, includes Starship as a transportation and in-space LEO habitation/destination element, supported by Super Heavy, Dragon, and Starlink. This architecture aims to provide a range of functions, such as human spaceflight engineering, crew operations and training capability, in-space medical research capability, long-duration crewed LEO operations capability, on-orbit servicing, recovery, or docking with other spacecraft, Starship ascent, entry, and landing, advanced communications in LEO, on-orbit propellant storage, and Starship LEO habitation capabilities.

The Future of Space Exploration

The collaboration between SpaceX and NASA through the CCSC2 agreement aims to advance the development and growth of the U.S. commercial economy in LEO. The development of Starship as an in-space LEO habitation module is a significant step towards achieving this goal, as it will enable extended crew duration in LEO and provide a platform for various space-related activities, such as research, exploration, and commercial ventures. As SpaceX and NASA continue to work together, the future of space exploration and the commercial space economy looks promising, with new opportunities and innovations on the horizon.

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