Airbus’ new multipurpose modular area station

SpaceX’s giant Starship rocket could have exploded during launch this week. That doesn’t mean, however, that Elon or humanity isn’t determined to enter a new era of space exploration.

To advance further into the universe, we not only need to figure out how to send humans to Mars, but also how to improve our life support systems and shelter.

To that end, European aerospace manufacturer Airbus has developed LOOP, a “multipurpose orbital module” intended to replace the aging International Space Station (ISS). According to Airbus, the company developed LOOP to “make long-term stays in space comfortable and pleasant for residents”.

Elegant room accommodations

Compared to the iconic images of astronauts floating around the ISS’s tiny common areas, LOOP’s three-story deck actually looks a little more pleasing. Judging by the pictures, it could almost be enough to make all your USS Enterprise fantasies come true. However, since you would remain in orbit, you wouldn’t actually be “brave walking” etc.

Living quarters complete with exercise bikes on the wall. Photo credit: Airbus

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But don’t imagine swarms of futuristic uniformed spacemen beaming onto the platform. With a diameter of 8 meters, Airbus designed the LOOP to comfortably accommodate a crew of four. However, it could be set to accommodate eight astronauts at a time.

The LOOP consists of three decks: housing, the science deck, and a centrifuge that can create gravity conditions for the station’s residents. The three-tier structure also allows for “safe harbour” separation if required. The decks are connected by the so-called tunnel in the middle, which is surrounded by a greenhouse structure.

Rendering of the science deckOne of the planned modules is the Science Deck. Photo credit: Airbus

The modular approach, on the other hand, is intended to be exactly that – modular. This means customers can swap out any deck to customize the station for individual mission profiles and objectives. According to the developer, one option could also be to combine several LOOP modules into a larger station. With all the space tourism hype, could we see a boutique hotel in a space station? Never say Never.

No assembly required

LOOP is designed to match an upcoming generation of super-heavy launch vehicles, like the spacecraft mentioned above, which will be able to launch the entire module in one piece (once their own launches are successful). This means it will be fully operational almost immediately when it reaches orbit.

Under the umbrella of the LOOP concept, Airbus also offers a whole range of supporting technologies for space exploration, such as thermal control solutions, power generation and management, environmental control and life support systems, etc.

Airbus LOOP coupled with Spartan Space’s inflatable module and a visiting spacecraft. Photo credit: Airbus

While Airbus has presented several concepts over the years that have not come close to reality, the company has a rich history when it comes to contributing to international space missions. Recently, it was the first-ever non-US company to build a mission-critical element for an American manned space mission.

The Kevlar-covered European Service Module and its 15,000 solar cells propel and maneuver NASA’s new Orion spacecraft. It also supplies the crew with water and oxygen and regulates the thermals.

Will customers respond?

As with many aerospace concepts, Airbus needs signals from customers who are willing to buy the product for LOOP to really make it from the design phase to development. In that case, there has to be someone willing to part with sums of near-astronomical (pun intended) proportions. Especially when you consider that the cost of the International Space Station, including development, assembly and operating costs over a decade, is around 100 billion euros.

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