It seems that scientists, as well as various space agencies, have suddenly shifted their focus from Mars towards moon again. Many commercial space exploration agencies are trying their best to send humans to the moon and make a lunar colony. And recently, Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance have signed an agreement to launch a B330 expandable module together with the help of ULA’s Vulcan launch Vehicle. The launch would deploy a B330 outfitted module in Low Lunar Orbit by the end of 2022 to serve as a lunar base. Bigelow has always depicted the B330 inflatable habitat module as versatile and has always insisted upon economical ways of expanding the International Space station as well as setting up laboratories and even hotels in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). But getting an opportunity to set an outpost in Moon’s Orbit will definitely boost up the confidence of the company.
Robert Bigelow, President of Bigelow Aerospace said that they are excited to work with ULA on this lunar project and their lunar depot plan is a strong complement to other plans intended to eventually put people on Mars. It would provide NASA and America with an exciting and financially practical success opportunity that can be accomplished in the short term. He added that their lunar depot could be deployed easily by 2022 to support the nation’s re-energized plans for returning to the Moon. Hence this commercial lunar habitat mission 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 B330 is a standalone commercial space station that can operate in low Earth orbit, cislunar space and beyond. The B330 is a more advanced version of the BEAM inflatable module which is currently attached to the ISS, and it consists of a “soft goods” inflatable habitat module with a multilayer design that, according to Bigelow, would provide better protection against debris and radiation than the aluminum hull of the space station modules. When inflated, the B330 expands to three times its original size, thus providing 330 m³ (11,654 ft³) of space and if we combine three B330s then it will provide the same volume of space as that of the entire ISS. The giant B330 module has a complete life support system and reaction motors, thus making it a unique spacecraft.
The B330 would launch to Low Earth Orbit on a Vulcan 562 configuration rocket, the only commercial launch vehicle in development today with sufficient performance and a big enough payload fairing to carry the habitat. Once the B330 enters the orbit, Bigelow Aerospace will outfit the habitat and demonstrate that it is working properly. Once the B330 becomes fully operational, ULA will use its industry-unique distributed lift capability to send the B330 to lunar orbit. The distributed lift would also utilize two more Vulcan ACES launches, each carrying 35 tons of cryogenic propellant to low Earth orbit. After entering the orbit, the fuel from the other ACES rockets would act as propellant tankers to top up one ACES, which would dock with the B330 and power it into a lunar transfer orbit. Once in Lower Lunar Orbit (LLO), astronauts would use it as a base for lunar missions and beyond.
Tory Bruno, president and CEO of ULA, said that they are very pleased to be able to continue their relationship with Bigelow Aerospace. He appreciated the tremendous work done by Bigelow in the area of habitats for visiting, living and working off our planet and said that ULA is thrilled to be the ride that enables that reality. ULA is one of the USA’s leading launch service provider, and it has successfully launched 120 satellites to orbit till date. Also, Bigelow Aerospace has informed that two B330 commercial space station habitats are under construction now and they would be ready for launch any time post-2020.