The race is on to develop a successor to the aging International Space Station (ISS), and a relatively unknown player has emerged with ambitious plans. Vast, a California-based start-up backed by a billionaire entrepreneur, aims to beat industry giants like Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin by launching its own space station into orbit as early as late 2025, with the capability to accommodate up to four people for a month-long stay. Partnering with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Vast intends to expedite its mission by aiming for a launch as soon as August 2025.

While the timeline may be challenging and subject to delays, Vast’s plans surpass the development of other commercial stations vying to succeed the ISS. If successful, this would mark a significant milestone in the commercialization of space, as it would be the first time a commercial rocket company launches humans to a commercial space station.

SpaceX, already at the forefront of commercial space travel, is set to launch its second crew of private citizens to the ISS this month through a mission chartered by Axiom Space. The company is also collaborating with entrepreneur and explorer Jared Isaacman, who completed a three-day orbit with three other civilians in 2021. With additional flights already booked, including one featuring the first private citizen spacewalk, SpaceX is actively shaping the future of space exploration.

With NASA committed to operating the ISS through 2030 and Russia confirming its partnership until at least 2028, concerns have arisen regarding the readiness of commercial stations as potential ISS replacements. Having faced a nearly decade-long gap in crewed spaceflights after retiring the space shuttle in 2011, NASA aims to avoid a similar situation by funding the development of commercial habitats. However, the lack of a backup space station and restrictions on partnering with China pose challenges for NASA.

Recognizing the significance of the space industry, the White House has released a five-part strategy dedicated to maintaining US preeminence in low Earth orbit. Ensuring a smooth transition between the retirement of the ISS and the implementation of commercial stations remains a priority for NASA.

While Vast did not participate in the initial round of NASA funding, the company believes its streamlined design and partnership with SpaceX will enable a relatively swift launch of its first station, called Haven-1. With dimensions compact enough to fit inside SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, the station can be deployed in a single launch. Vast has also secured a contract with SpaceX to transport a crew of up to four individuals using the Dragon spacecraft, which is already employed for NASA missions. The company has not disclosed pricing details, but it anticipates customers from international space agencies and affluent individuals.

Jed McCaleb, the billionaire entrepreneur behind Vast, envisions a future where commercial rockets and spacecraft, carrying commercial astronauts, transport humans to commercial space stations in low Earth orbit. By tackling the challenge of providing affordable and successful human habitation in space, Vast aims to contribute to this vision. While Haven-1 represents a smaller-scale station, spanning approximately 33 feet in length and 12.5 feet in diameter, Vast plans to launch additional modules. The company’s ultimate goal is to construct a larger station capable of generating artificial gravity through rotation, simulating the conditions on Mars and facilitating research on the effects of gravity on the human body.

Hans Koenigsmann, former vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX and now a consultant for Vast, sees the potential of a rotating station to serve as a testing ground for future Mars missions. By allowing researchers to study the impact of gravity on the human body before embarking on a journey to the Red Planet, such a station could offer valuable insights. Koenigsmann is excited about this concept and draws parallels between Vast and the early days of SpaceX.

By Impact Lab