First commercial space station to launch in only four years

 Image Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

Image Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

Bigelow Aerospace partnered with the United Launch Alliance to launch their 330-cubic-meter expandable space habitatthe B330using ULA's Atlas V rocket in the 2019-2020 time frame.

“We could not be more pleased than to partner with Bigelow Aerospace and reserve a launch slot on our manifest for this revolutionary mission,” Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO, said in a news release. “This innovative and game-changing advance will dramatically increase opportunities for space research in fields like materials, medicine and biology. And it enables destinations in space for countries, corporations and even individuals far beyond what is available today, effectively democratizing space. We can’t begin to imagine the future potential of affordable real estate in space.”

The announcement is a first-of-its-kind partnership of two commercial space companiesone a launch provider and the other a space habitat companyworking to develop human infrastructure in low-Earth orbit without the aid of any government. That isn't to say that the companies don't want to do business with governments.

The B330 is designed to be a completely self-contained space station. But, according to Robert Bigelow, the CEO of Bigelow Aerospace, he would like to see one attach to the International Space Station.

"We are trying to acquire permission from NASA to be able to locate a B330 on [the ISS]," Bigelow said, "If we're able to do that and have ExSpace be there, we are asking, also, that we be given consideration to be able to commercialize time and volume." 

Bigelow said this would be no different than having a 30-story building and trying to lease a number of floors. He continued the analogy by stating that maybe NASA could be an anchor tenant to this first B330 at the International Space Station.

 Image Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

Image Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

This module, if attached to ISS, would increase the station's volume by 30 percent. The craft will support research in microgravity including, but not limited to, scientific missions and manufacturing processes. The space station currently has the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, which will be installed over the weekend. BEAM is the first expandable module to be attached to the orbital outpost, however it is primarily a test article and only a few 10s of cubic meters in volume.

Transportation to these modules, be it at ISS or elsewhere, will be done by NASA's current crop of commercial crew providers. Bigelow believes that there is enough of a market to support four commercial transportation companies. He cited Boeing's CST-100, SpaceX's Crew Dragon, Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser and Blue Origin's yet-to-be-unveiled orbital spacecraft.

Bigelow also hopes that the module, and other free-flying versions of it, will support space tourism and be able to be used on missions that go beyond LEO to the Moon or Mars.

The B330 is currently being developed. The companies will work together to develop the business construct, commercial product offerings and marketing plans. Only when the spacecraft design is proven and a market shown to exist will additional habitats be deployed in other locations.

Video courtesy of United Launch Alliance

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Derek Richardson

I am a space geek who loves to write about space.

My passion for space ignited when I watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on October 29, 1998. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, I soon realized that my true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.

Currently, I am a senior at Washburn University studying Mass Media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism. In addition to running Orbital Velocity, I write for the Washburn Review and am the Managing Editor for SpaceFlight Insider.