BY JAN WONDRA
United Launch Alliance, based in Centennial, and Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas, Nev. have announced a joint working relationship focused on the launch of a B330 expandable module that it will launch into low lunar orbit on ULA’s Vulcan launch vehicle by the end of 2022.
The module will function as a lunar depot designed to support commercial and business development projects directed to the moon’s surface. It will also provide a habitat location for NASA and other governments to conduct long-term exploration and astronaut training.
“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.”
ULA’s Vulcan 562 rocket is the only commercial launch vehicle in development today with the performance ability and payload capacity to carry the module to the moon. Once it is successfully placed in Earth’s orbit, Bigelow Aerospace will outfit and test its capability. ULA will then use its lift capacity to direct it toward a moon orbit.
“We are so pleased to be able to continue our relationship with Bigelow Aerospace,” said Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO. “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.”
While the company refers to the unit as a habitat module, in reality it is a standalone commercial space station that can operate in low Earth orbit, in lunar orbit, or beyond. Just one B330 module is comparable to one third of the current pressurized volume of the entire International Space Station. Bigelow Aerospace says it will have two of them ready for launch any time after 2020.