Bigelow and ULA propose lunar station


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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.

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3 comments

  • LocalFluff

    Why would they want to orbit the Moon? LEO is much better in every way. Much better science can be made, much safer, much cheaper and there are plenty of commercial demand for Earth observation. Commercial space is impossible in Lunar orbit, that’s why the Obama administration suggests it. DSG is the ARM without the asteroid boulder. It’s only purpose is make the human space flight program unavailable for commercialization.

  • Matt in AZ

    I’m not too worried that a deal like this could make human spaceflight unavailable for commercialization, and suspect it will have the opposite effect. Despite how government funded space projects often result in wasteful prolonged spending or altogether abandoned plans, NASA’s initial contract with SpaceX allowed it survive and grow beyond merely relying on NASA’s money in the long run. This could be the same case for Bigelow here, which I’m sure is still interested in establishing the LEO facilities they’ve always wanted. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, and there’s room for more space operations on many fronts for the forward-sighted.

  • wodun

    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.

    This seems likely and teaming up with ULA is a good way to appeal to the congress critters who like SLS/Orion so much. And Bigelow was already working with ULA and Boeing for their space hotels.

    I seem to recall Bigelow also having desires to land their habitats on the Moon. A lunar station could be a step in that direction.

    I think it is good that Bigelow is working to get in with the more traditional government contractors but I hope they are also have plans to go their own way and use whatever launch and passenger vehicles are available to the market. BO is taking a dual track approach like this.

    A BFR could put up around five B330’s. The BFR is farther along than Vulcan and has a less rube goldberg approach to reusability too.

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