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Capitalism in space: Bigelow, builders of expandable space station modules, and ULA, building of rockets, have jointly proposed building an inexpensive lunar space station for NASA, to be launched by 2022.
The announcement build upon existing work between the two companies to study launching B330 modules, originally on the Atlas 5, Bigelow Aerospace President Robert Bigelow said in an Oct. 17 interview. He said his company decided to shift to the Vulcan vehicle and then build upon its capabilities, such as the ACES upper stage that is intended to also serve as a refuelable space tug. “There is synchronicity between what ULA has in the way of capabilities and what we’re doing,” Bigelow said. “We decided to collaborate and prepare a proposal that the White House and NASA could accept as part of an overall space plan.”
Bigelow emphasized he saw this proposal as a public-private partnership. He estimated NASA’s share of the costs to be $2.3 billion, in addition to the “hundreds of millions” being spent by both Bigelow Aerospace and ULA. “It’s executable within four years of receiving funding and NASA giving us the word,” he said.
The lunar depot would be available for both NASA and commercial uses, according to Bigelow. It could be visited by NASA Orion spacecraft launched by the Space Launch System, but he said it’s possible other spacecraft, like a version of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, could also provide transportation to and from the facility.
Bigelow also went out of his way to say that this proposal was not meant to replace NASA’s proposed Deep Space Gateway, also a lunar space station, but as a quicker and cheaper supplement that could be launched and put into service while the gateway was being built.
In other words, Bigelow wishes to be to the Deep Space Gateway what SpaceX has been to SLS/Orion, the real thing while Congress continues to pour money into a parallel boondoggle that never goes anywhere.