Bigelow, ULA Teaming To Deliver Habitats To LEO
[Via Satellite 04-06-2016] Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance (ULA) are teaming to deliver habitable vehicles to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) as soon as 2020, the companies announced Monday April 11 at the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. The companies provided few details as Bigelow Aerospace founder Bob Bigelow called it a work in progress. The companies did say the volumes will be based on Bigelow’s B330 expandable module, which is much larger than the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) that just arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday. The B330 will have 12,000 cubic feet of internal space, which ULA President and CEO Tory Bruno quipped was larger than his first apartment.
The B330 will support zero-gravity research including scientific missions and manufacturing processes. Beyond its industrial and scientific purposes, Bigelow and ULA believe the B330 has potential as a destination for space tourism and a craft for missions destined for the Moon and Mars. Bob Bigelow told reporters Monday he hopes to first attach the B330 to ISS, but that he anticipated having to go through a “gauntlet” of challenges to get the required permissions from NASA.
Attaching the B330 to ISS, Bob Bigelow said in a press release, would enlarge ISS’ volume by 30 percent and function as a multipurpose test bed in support of NASA’s exploration goals as well as provide significant commercial opportunities. The B330 will also be known as XBASE, or Expandable Bigelow Advanced Station Enhancement.
Development of the B330 is well underway as is the integration of the B330 to ULA’s Atlas 5, which will launch the habitat in the 552 configuration, according to a joint company statement. The companies are working together to develop the business construct, commercial product offerings and marketing plans.
Once the habitat is proven and markets established, additional B330’s will be deployed to other locations. Bruno speculated that the first commercial jobs in space could be commercial research. Bob Bigelow said he would be open to companies or organizations purchasing naming rights to his habitats, like what is common for sports stadiums, as his goal is to keep costs as minimal as possible.
“We would love to see a Disney space station,” Bob Bigelow said.
Bruno and Bob Bigelow said they had not determined how this first mission would be financed. Bruno said if there was a NASA-centric mission and the agency wanted to invest in lifting the B330, he would be pleased to work with them, but he believes there are other opportunities as well. NASA is encouraging industry to develop LEO as ISS winds down in the early to mid 2020s as the civil space agency is preferring to focus on going to Mars.
The original version of this story was published on Defense Daily, a Via Satellite sister publication covering the global defense market intelligence in land, sea, air, and space initiatives.