Mr Americana, Overpasses News Desk
October 18th, 2017
Bigelow Aerospace is planning to put one of its inflatable modules into orbit around the Moon within the next five years.
The module going into lunar orbit will be the B330, Bigelow’s new concept for a standalone habitat that can function autonomously as a full blown commercial space station. The plan is for the B330 to serve as something of a lunar depot, where private companies can test out new technologies, or where astronauts can stay to undergo training for deep space missions.
“Our lunar depot plan is a strong complement to other plans intended to eventually put people on Mars,” Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace, said in a statement. “It will provide NASA and America with an exciting and financially practical success opportunity that can be accomplished in the short term.”
Bigelow is looking to the United Launch Alliance to launch the module into orbit and the B330 is planned to launch on ULA’s upcoming rocket, the Vulcan. The Vulcan is expected to begin missions no earlier than 2019.
The plan is for the Vulcan to loft the B330 into lower Earth orbit, and it will remain there for one year during a shakedown cruise to resolve any potential glitches and to assure proper operational capability. While it is in shakedown mode, Bigelow will be sending supplies to the station along with rotating crews out every few months.
Once the shakedown is finished, ULA will launch two more Vulcan rockets, where one will transfer a load of propellant to another, which will then dock with the module, and propel it to the Moon from low Earth orbit. ACES, the name of the new rocket means Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage.
It appears that Bigelow is trying to capitalize on recent changes favoring investment in the space industry.
Bigelow and ULA’s partnership comes just weeks after Vice President Mike Pence called for NASA to return people to the Moon.
Bigelow aims to demonstrate that the B330 lunar depot could be incorporated into any of NASA’s future lunar plans. “[The lunar depot] will provide NASA and America with an exciting and financially practical success opportunity that can be accomplished in the short term,” Bigelow said in a statement. “This lunar depot could be deployed easily by 2022 to support the nation’s re-energized plans for returning to the Moon.”
All of this is dependent on ULA finishing development of its rocket first, while Bigelow simultaneously builds the first B330 module. Bigelow has plans to build two full-scale B330 stations by 2019, and having them launch-ready by 2020.
For years Bigelow has been testing an experimental habitat module in space called the BEAM, or the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. The BEAM launched to the International Space Station last year, where it was then attached to the station’s Tranquility Node. It was originally supposed to stay at the ISS for just two years, but NASA recently said it’s thinking about extending the habitat’s stay.
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