The plans of SpaceX to send private citizens on a lunar flight in 2018 to debut lunar tourism has led to other stakeholders speaking about the opportunity.
One of the leading aerospace scientists, Robert Bigelow, whose company Bigelow Aerospace has been a pioneer in setting the stage for private spaceflights way back in 1998, has a focus on expandable space-station modules and habitats.
Bigelow said private space stations can start orbiting the moon by 2020 if policy direction from the Trump administration facilitates entrepreneurial spaceflights.
"The key is going to be how fast the Trump administration can react," Bigelow said.
Role For Private Space Stations
While projecting the cause of private space stations, Bigelow painted a big picture of lunar tourism and presented his vision of a space station that will be orbiting less than 95 miles above the lunar surface. Such a station can serve as a landing pad and refueling station for spacecraft.
The facility would further support humans traveling to other destinations in the solar system including Mars. Bigelow also said creating space stations is imperative, as potential landing pads they can catalyze space tourism. It is also important in making the lunar tourist experience feel the joy of space after having traveled away from Earth.
Commenting on the SpaceX plans on lunar tourism, he said the plans for a circumlunar flight by 2018 and commercial transportation by 2020 can work if the timelines are met.
Bigelow urged the Trump administration to move quickly "to galvanize the private sector" and make "a lunar depot by end of 2020 possible."
Inflatable Space Habitats
Bigelow Aerospace has been noted for the private space-habitat prototypes and the first inflatable space-station module.
The company's Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is working well at the International Space Station (ISS) as the first privately built inflatable room. It was delivered to ISS on a SpaceX cargo ship in 2016.
Upcoming Lunar Plans
While focusing on the expandable space-station modules for a human stay, the thrust of Bigelow Aerospace is cost efficiency.
Departing from the popular model of ISS, Bigelow is trying to offer space habitats at a fraction of the $150 billion spent on making and maintaining ISS for a 30-years tenure.
Among the major future plans, launching of a mega inflatable habitat into orbit by 2020 has a high priority. The free-flying private space station will be launched by the Atlas V rocket of United Launch Alliance. ULA is a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Named as BA-330, the space habitat will have 330 cubic meters (or 11,650 cubic feet) of internal volume.
According to Bigelow, there is also the option of placing BA-330 into a low lunar orbit and make it a gateway to astronauts bound for the moon and vice versa.
The experimental module BA2100 Olympus in the works can accommodate 16 astronauts and sustain an extended period of time.