ULA, Bigelow Aerospace team up to launch world’s first commercial space station.
United Launch Alliance and Bigelow Aerospace announced a partnership at the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado yesterday that, when completed, would see a revolution in space exploration and utilization.
Although not formally announcing launch, the two companies have begun investigative work to integrate Bigelow’s B330 space habitat on a ULA Atlas V vehicle for launch in 2020. Two B330s – also known as XBASE, for Expandable Bigelow Advanced Station Enhancement– would be delivered to ULA for launch in late 2019 and early 2020.
When launched, the B330s would be the world’s first privately-owned, commercial space station in history, and would “democratize” Earth orbit, as ULA CEO Tory Bruno stated.
The B330 has been in development since mid-2001, and would be available for purchase by companies who desire to send experiments or other payloads into space. Space inside the station would also be available for rent if the entire station is not needed.
XBASE would be serviced by the existing fleet of commercial cargo ships as well as the in-development commercial crew vehicles. Bigelow stated that “Blue Origin, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, and Boeing” could all bring cargo and crew to the station depending on what the customer prefers.
It is hoped that the initial XBASE would be attached to the International Space Station, serving as a technical successor to BEAM, which launched Friday on CRS-8. Pending NASA approval, XBASE would increase the habitable volume of the station by 30%, adding more than 330 cubic meters to the complex. It would also serve as a testbed for the agency to operate systems required for long-duration interplanetary spaceflight using inflatable structures.
The second XBASE Bigelow plans on launching would be an free-flying station in low Earth orbit. Once the first two stations are in orbit, Bigelow stated that locations for additional XBASEs would be investigated. Locations in cislunar or interplanetary space would be considered if there was enough commercial base to make them viable.
P/c: Nathan Koga and Bigelow Aerospace.