As the International Space Station (ISS) approaches the end of its service, several space agencies are preparing to take on its legacy with their own space stations. China plans to lead with the Tiangong, and India’s Space Research Organization (ISRO) has plans to deploy its own station by mid-decade. Meanwhile, NASA has contracted with three aerospace companies to design commercial space stations: Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef, the Axiom Space Station (AxS), and Starlab. However, a new player has entered the game: Airbus, a European multinational aerospace giant, has proposed the Multi-Purpose Orbital Module (MPOP), called the Airbus LOOP.

The Airbus LOOP is a modular space segment designed for future space stations and long-duration missions to Mars. It features three decks, a centrifuge, and enough volume for a crew of four. The LOOP builds on Airbus’s long history of human spaceflight programs, such as the ISS Columbus Module, the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), and the Orion European Service Module (ESM).

The interior design of the LOOP consists of three levels, including a Habitation Deck, a Science Deck, and a Centrifuge that simulates gravity for two crewmembers at a time. The module measures 8 meters in diameter and roughly the same length, providing close to 100 cubic meters of volume. Separating the interior into different decks allows for an “internal safe harbor concept,” meaning that the crew can move to the deck that affords the most protection in the event of a solar flare or other hazards.

The module is designed for a crew of four but can reportedly accommodate up to eight astronauts at a time temporarily. The deck selection can be adapted to individual mission requirements and objectives, or the mechanical structure can be used alone as a “dry module.” Individual decks can be equipped with mission-specific machinery and infrastructure depending on the mission requirements.

In the standard design, the Habitation Deck is essentially a “common area” with large windows and exercise equipment, such as stationary bikes. The Science Deck is equipped with multiple computer terminals, an airlock that allows the crew to conduct extra-vehicular activities (EVAs), and smaller portholes to provide views of space.

The Centrifuge is perhaps the most interesting element of the LOOP, consisting of two weights and two crew pods. These pods contain exercise bikes and can accommodate a single crewperson, allowing the crew to work out (two at a time) in a simulated gravity environment. The LOOP meets all of the basic needs of long-duration stays in space and is compatible with all crew and cargo vehicles, including those currently in service and those in development. This includes the ISS, where the LOOP would be integrated to provide additional volume and even “gravity therapy.” It could also be integrated into the Lunar Gateway or act as the habitation module of the proposed Deep Space Transport (DST).

Airbus also emphasizes that multiple LOOP modules can be combined to create a full-on space station, each outfitted with various decks to accommodate a range of operations and experiments. In this respect, the LOOP could occupy a role similar to what NASA had in mind with his proposed Non-Atmospheric Universal Transport Intended for Lengthy United States Exploration (Nautilus-X) concept.

By Impact Lab