Bigelow Aerospace B330 space hab to get ride on ULA Atlas V 552 in 2020
The handover of space activities in low-Earth orbit (LEO) to commercial firms is accelerating at an ever-increasing pace. On Monday, April 11, Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance announced that a ULA Atlas V 552 rocket would be used to deploy an expandable habitat based on the BA-330 expandable module. With that flight coming as soon as 2020, just four years from now, the NewSpace revolution appears to be heating up.
If Robert Bigelow has his way, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) that rode in the CRS-8 Dragon spacecraft’s trunk section on April 8 to the International Space Station won’t be the last of his company’s offerings to be attached to the orbiting lab. Bigelow also wants to berth its BA-330 to the ISS – also in 2020.
“We are exploring options for the location of the initial BA-330 including discussions with NASA on the possibility of attaching it to the International Space Station (ISS),” said Bigelow. “In that configuration, the BA-330 will enlarge the station’s volume by 30 percent and function as a multipurpose testbed in support of NASA’s exploration goals as well as provide significant commercial opportunities. The working name for this module is XBASE or Expandable Bigelow Advanced Station Enhancement.”
BEAM arrived, along with the other roughly 7,000 lbs (3,175 kg) of cargo, experiments, and crew supplies at the ISS on Sunday, April 10 – two days after it was launched.
According to a report appearing on Aviation Week and Space Technology, Bigelow told reporters at the annual Space Symposium on April 11 that he has already started trying to win NASA’s permission to attach this larger variant to the station to serve as a more commodious test facility. As its nomenclature implies, the BA-330 has 330 cubic meters of internal volume when expanded, almost 21 times the BEAM’s expanded volume.
Failing that, Bigelow said he still is prepared to operate the large modules as free-flyers, which was his plan when he started developing them. In either case, he and United Launch Alliance (ULA) President and CEO Tory Bruno announced that the BA-330 would be launched on a ULA Atlas V 552, which has a payload fairing large enough to accommodate the larger module in its collapsed state.
“When looking for a vehicle to launch our large, unique spacecraft, ULA provides a heritage of solid mission success, schedule certainty, and a cost-effective solution,” continued Mr. Bigelow.
If the concept gain can NASA approval, transportation to the BA-330 would be provided by NASA’s commercial crew providers, whether the station is free flying or attached to the ISS. The traffic to just one module could potentially more than double the number of crew flights per year.
“We could not be more pleased than to partner with Bigelow Aerospace and reserve a launch slot on our manifest for this revolutionary mission,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. “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.”
Development of the BA-330 is already well underway as are efforts to put in place systems that would allow for the integration of the BA-330 to the Atlas V. The companies are also working together so as to create the business plan, commercial product offerings, and marketing plans that such an effort requires. Once the habitat is proven and markets are established, additional B330’s could be deployed to other locations, even the Moon and Mars, to meet increasing demand for habitable volumes in space.
“NASA is evolving from owning everything to being a commercial customer, and a tenant,” said Bigelow, who has used funds he earned as a commercial real estate developer in Las Vegas to bankroll the expandable-habitat development. “We’re trying to acquire permission from NASA to be able to locate a BA-330 on [the] station. If we’re able to do that and have that space to be there, we are asking also that we be given consideration to be able to commercialize time and volume.”
Bigelow conceded that it will be difficult to win clearance to berth a larger module to the space station. The safety and structural engineering considerations will be considerable, he said, acknowledging that the berthing mechanism developed to link BEAM to the station probably will need to be “enhanced” to accommodate the larger mass of the BA-330.
Once it is there, Bigelow said, the BA-300 could serve NASA as a large space to test environmental control and life support systems (ECLSS) for long-duration human space flight initiatives conducted well beyond LEO, and to serve commercial customers who would pay Bigelow to use it for needs ranging from microgravity research to space tourism.
He and Bruno were vague on details regarding their new partnership, saying there are too many details to be worked out to be specific yet. Bruno said ULA will provide “resources” in the form of technical expertise, but declined to discuss whether it would invest cash in the partnership. Nor would the two executives say how much it will cost to launch a BA-330 to the station or as a free-flyer, or who would pay for it.
Bigelow described NASA as a kind of “anchor tenant” on the BA-330, a role it plays already in the commercial cargo and crew vehicles under development with agency seed money measured in the billions of dollars. By supporting a commercial space habitat on the scale of the B330, he said, NASA would be advancing the development of a private LEO economy, in keeping with its policy of using public funds in the future to operate exploration missions deeper in the Solar System.
“This project is allowing humanity to step off of this planet in a sustained and permanent way,” Bruno said in response to a question about the public benefits of the private effort. “I cannot think of a more important and a more impactful giving to humanity than that one.”
Video courtesy of United Launch Alliance
Eric Shear is a recent graduate from York University, honors bachelor in space science. Before that, Shear studied mechanical engineering at Tacoma Community College. During this time, Shear helped develop the HYDROS water-electrolysis propulsion system at Tethers Unlimited and led a microgravity experiment on the Weightless Wonder parabolic aircraft. Shear has worked for an extended period of time to both enable and promote space flight awareness. Shear agreed to contribute to SpaceFlight Insider’s efforts so that he could provide extra insight into interplanetary missions, both past and present.