ULA to launch two Bigelow space station modules

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The competition heats up: ULA and Bigelow Aerospace have announced a partnership to launch two of Bigelow’s largest space station modules, each with about as much interior space as both Skylab and Mir.

Both will be ready for launch by 2020. Neither company has made clear if they have any outside investment, though they left open the option of working with NASA and having the modules attached to ISS.


  • Desmond Murphy

    Presumably a ULA launch will be a lot more expensive than a SpaceX launch, so i wonder why they went for ULA. The fairing on Falcon 9/ Falcon Heavy is supposed to be too small, but I would have thought that the saving in launch cost would have paid for a larger fairing.

  • Steve C

    Since it is a partnership with ULA instead of Bigelow just buying a launch, I doubt the cost of launch enters into it,

  • Tom Billings

    As to “Why ULA?” The answer may be in the intentions of ULA to reuse their ACES upper stage in Space. They had 2 presenters at the Space Access Conference that were heavily emphasizing the use of depots, along with ISRU, for reusing ACES. They did mention the possibility of human participation in depot and propellant delivery work. Since one presumes that depots in LEO will precede those at EML-1, etc., then we may be seeing a partnership developing to put that in place.

  • Edward

    From the article: “the two B330s would potentially more than double (or quadruple — once both are in LEO) the number of crewed commercial flights each year – though it’s unclear at this time what that number would be doubled for quadrupled from, given that there are currently no commercial crew flights at this time.”

    CCDev proposes 12 crewed flights, starting around 2018. Since the current plan is to decommission the ISS in 2024 (though there are talks in process to extend this to 2028), I think we can conclude that there should be about two flights per year through the course of the CCDev’s current plan.

    Four flights per year may be enough to keep two companies in business, and eight per year may provide incentive for a third company to get into the business.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Bigelow has previously stated he would like to change crews every 90 days, though he might start by doing so every 120. He doesn’t like the six-month stays the NASA, Russian and guest astronauts do on ISS. A B330 accommodates six people. A station built of two B330’s can handle 12. Rotating 12 people 3 times a year would require six missions of the Dragon 2 and/or Starliner. Rotating 12 people 4 times a year would require eight missions. NASA is unlikely to be using more than two or three missions per year to keep ISS staffed at current levels. So there’s where the double, triple and quadruple factors come from.

    Bottom line? Even with only a single two-module station on-orbit, Bigelow will account for 65% – 80% of crew transfer missions. Given that, unlike NASA, he seems to have no objections to use of used boosters or spacecraft in providing such services, his percentage of the total dollar value of crew transfer missions will not be so large at first, but it will still go a long way toward doubling NASA’s part of the market and will be at least as profitable to the providers.

  • Edward

    Bigelow has also talked of 30-day rental or leasing. This business model will require either 12 flights per year per habitat or periods in which the habitat is unoccupied.

    Either way, 30 day or 90 day, Bigelow and his customers are likely to be a major customer of the commercial crew transporters. The large number of countries that want to have inexpensive space programs and the large number of companies and universities that have ideas for microgravity experiments suggests to me that commercial manned space will be a booming business within a decade.

    I expect both Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin to be in this manned launch business within ten years, with XCOR and Virgin Galactic working on entering this business before 2030.

    I also expect Orbital ATK to put a manned version of their Cygnus spacecraft in orbit to compete with Bigelow for space habitat/space station services. Such a Cygnus module has been (unofficially?) proposed for use with Orion to provide additional crew space for long-duration cis-lunar missions.

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