United Launch Alliance has struck a partnership with Bigelow Aerospace to develop and deploy two of the biggest-ever human space habitats in near-orbit locations — possibly including the International Space Station.
Bigelow Aerospace founder and president Robert Bigelow and ULA chief Tory Bruno announced the pact on April 11 at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Las Vegas-based Bigelow was founded in 1999 to develop space-based habitats, and one of its inflatable modules soon will be tested at the International Space Station for possible use on the moon or Mars. SpaceX delivered that module — dubbed Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM — to the ISS on April 8, shipping the inflatable habitat aboard its CRS-8 Dragon spacecraft.
The ULA-Bigelow partnership aims to complete development of a much bigger habitat, which to date has been called the B330. Attaching the 12,000-cubic-foot module to the ISS would increase usable space on the orbiting space lab by an estimated 30 percent.
“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,” Robert Bigelow said. “The working name for this module is XBASE or Expandable Bigelow Advanced Station Enhancement.”
XBASE would be lifted into into orbit by ULA’s Atlas V launch vehicle, with the first possibly heading into space by late 2019. In addition to possible use at the ISS in its XBASE configuration, the B330 could be placed into its own orbiting position as the world’s first commercial space station.
“This innovative and game-changing advance will dramatically increase opportunities for space research in fields like materials, medicine and biology,” Bruno said. “It enables destinations in space for countries, corporations and even individuals far beyond what is available today, effectively democratizing space. We can’t begin to imagine the future potential of affordable real estate in space.”
Bigelow already has been working on the B330 project, and preliminary work also has begun on how to integrate the huge module into the Atlas V.
Based in Centennial, Colo., ULA is one of NASA’s go-to launch services providers. The company is a 50-50 joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Bigelow Aerospace’s founder also owns the Budget Suites of America — a very Earth-bound hotel chain.