If you are running out of vacation ideas, you might want to save up for a holiday in space. Bigelow Aerospace (BA) is partnering with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to design and develop a habitable volume that can launch to the low Earth orbit (LEO).
After a successful launch and landing of an orbital spacecraft by SpaceX, it looks like similar launches are gaining more ground. The SpaceX Dragon capsule launched last weekend carried with it the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) that aims to prove that expandable technology is suitable for human use in space.
In a press release, ULA said the habitable volumes will be designed after BA's B330 expandable module, which would provide about one-third of usable volume as that of the International Space Station (ISS). They are targeting a 2020 initial launch on the company's Altlas V 552 configuration launch vehicle.
"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," said BA's founder and President Robert Bigelow.
The companies hope the module also known as XBASE or Expandable Bigelow Advanced Station Enhancement would complement the ISS space explorations and other missions. Their goal is to launch one of the two B330s by 2020. The initial launch, if approved by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), would attach the B330s to the ISS.
"We are exploring options for the location of the initial B330 including discussions with NASA on the possibility of attaching it to the International Space Station," said Bigelow. "In that configuration, the B330 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."
In case they fail to get approval from NASA, Bigelow explained that the B330s can operate alone while free flying in space.
"They need no other habitats, modules or anything of sort," Bigelow said during the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado.
The B330, which has 330 cubic meters (11,650 cubic feet) of internal volume, could accommodate space tourists or those who want to conduct scientific experiments in space. Bigelow acknowledges that customers may use the modules for a variety of purposes that would force the module to operate on a time-share basis.
"We're offering discrete quantities of time – a matter of one or two week to maybe 45 days – to various kinds of clientele," Bigelow said.
ULA CEO Tory Bruno is positive that their partnership with BA will bring forth revolutionary missions to space.
"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," said Bruno. "We can't begin to imagine the future potential of affordable real estate in space."
B330 is currently undergoing development as well as its integration with Atlas V. The two firms are now looking at different commercial product offerings and marketing plans. Once they prove a viable habitat, BA and ULA are planning to include other locations such as Mars and the moon.
Bigelow has previously flown expandable modules in space: Genesis 1 in 2006, Genesis 2 prototypes in 2007, and the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module that was aboard the SpaceX's Dragon capsule launched last weekend.
With a target launch of 2020, you have more or less four years to save up for that holiday in space. Would you take advantage of this opportunity?