Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance have agreed to place a “lunar depot” into orbit within five years.
The plan builds on the companies’ previously announced partnership to develop and deploy human space habitats to serve as way stations for missions to the Moon and eventually Mars and beyond.
In their Oct. 17 announcement, habitat-builder Bigelow and launch-services provider ULA detailed the concept and hung their lunar-orbit plans on a timeline.
“We are excited to work with ULA on this lunar depot project,” said Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace. “Our lunar depot plan is a strong complement to other plans intended to eventually put people on Mars. It will provide NASA and America with an exciting and financially practical success opportunity that can be accomplished in the short term.
“This lunar depot could be deployed easily by 2022 to support the nation’s re-energized plans for returning to the Moon,” he said. “This commercial lunar depot would provide anchorage for significant lunar business development in addition to offering NASA and other governments the Moon as a new exciting location to conduct long-term exploration and astronaut training.”
The company’s B330 habitat first would launch sometime in 2022 into low Earth orbit, lifted by a Vulcan rocket that likely will be powered by the BE-4 engine under development by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. Then, once fully tested, the B330 would be propelled into a lunar orbit.
“We are so pleased to be able to continue our relationship with Bigelow Aerospace,” ULA chief Tory Bruno said. “The company is doing such tremendous work in the area of habitats for visiting, living and working off our planet and we are thrilled to be the ride that enables that reality.”
Last year, Bigelow Aerospace said it also was building a second B330 for possible use by NASA as an “XBASE” extension to the International Space Station. Spokeswoman Blair Bigelow said those plans remain viable, should NASA decide to take advantage of the offer.
“XBASE has been proposed to NASA,” she said. “We will have two B330s ready for launch after 2020.”
Based in Las Vegas, Bigelow Aerospace was founded in 1999.
ULA is a Centennial, Colo.-based joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. It was founded in 2006.