Sometimes, when good news comes, it comes in spades.
As recently as a decade ago, expectations were that the International Space Station (ISS) was due to expire and be decommissioned -- perhaps as early as 2023. Well, it's 2023 now. ISS is still up there -- and last month the Russian space agency Roscosmos confirmed it will continue supporting ISS through at least 2028, which is great news for investors in companies like SpaceX and Northrop Grumman, whose billions of dollars' worth of space station supply contracts depend on ISS remaining in orbit.
And ISS may have some company up there.
A cornucopia of space stations
As previously reported, there are at least four separate teams of companies vying to build private space stations in Earth orbit right now:
- Privately held Axiom Space, which is partnering with both SpaceX and NASA to first attach space station modules to ISS and later detach those segments from ISS to become an independent station.
- Aerospace giant Boeing, which in cooperation with Blue Origin, Sierra Space, and Redwire, are working to build an "Orbital Reef" space station by 2030.
- Fellow aerospace star Lockheed Martin, which is working with Nanoracks to build another space station dubbed "Starlab."
- And Northrop Grumman, which plans to use the same Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) module it's building for the Lunar Gateway space station as the basis for a separate space station (yet to be named) in Earth orbit.
And one more thing...
What's more, as of last week, you can now add a fifth space station company to this list: Vast Space.
On Wednesday, this formerly little-known Californian company (founded by a cryptocurrency billionaire by the way, and more on that in a minute) shocked space investors with its announcement that in 2025, it will send a Haven-1 module into orbit atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 to form the first segment of a new space station.
Shortly thereafter, Vast will charter a SpaceX Dragon capsule atop another Falcon rocket, dock with Haven-1, and deliver four astronauts (some of whom may be private citizens) to crew the space station for a 30-day orbital mission.
If successful, Vast Space will thereby become the proud owner of the world's first privately launched and privately operated commercial space station. It will also have taken its first step toward its ultimate goal of building a "100-meter-long multi-module spinning artificial gravity space station."
And it probably goes without saying, but I'll point this out anyway: This would be the first and only station -- public or private -- offering the luxury of artificial gravity in orbit.
Get to know Vast Space
But hold up a minute. Who (or what) exactly is Vast Space?
If you haven't heard of Vast Space before -- that's no surprise. This relatively new, private space company was only founded in 2021. Vast's founder, cryptocurrency billionaire Jed McCaleb, made his initial fortune developing the Ripple cryptocurrency payment protocol. Then following in the footsteps of former tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, McCaleb, too, decided to plow his early profits into a novel space venture.
Who wins this space race?
But is Vast arriving too late? Not necessarily.
True, Vast is only the most recent of five space companies that have announced plans to build private space stations in orbit. Granted, too, Boeing, Lockheed, and Northrop's space stations are all backed by multibillion-dollar aerospace and defense conglomerates. But Vast's audacious announcement last week suggests that the newer, nimbler Vast may nonetheless beat its competitors to orbit with a 2025 launch.
At last report, each of Boeing, Lockheed, and Northrop were only planning to begin launching space station modules in 2027. Aside from Vast, only Axiom seems to be targeting a 2025 launch for its first module. So even if Vast is last to enter this space race, it may still finish first.
Vast may be a new space company, but it's already off to a fast start. In a February 2023 article, CNBC noted that Vast has 120 employees under contract and a 115,000-square-foot facility up and running in Long Beach, California. So Vast not only has the money it needs to get its project off the ground, but it also has a place all set up and ready to do the work.
Granted, to investors betting on space station operations to form a brand new revenue stream for publicly traded Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman, this may not sound like great news. But consider the silver lining: The more competition, the faster you can expect Vast's competitors to work to keep up with their new rival.
And the sooner they realize that, the sooner we all get to invest in private space stations -- and all the new business opportunities that will come with them.
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