Bigelow Aerospace and Axiom Space — plan to launch habitat modules to orbit in 2020, with the aim of making some money off Earth. If all goes according to plan, private space stations will eventually form the backbone of commercial facilities that replace the International Space Station (ISS), which is currently funded through 2024.
“Hopefully, if we’re successful in the private-sector community, NASA’s going to save a boatload of money, on multiple locations [in orbit] — not just one — with more volume than they’ve ever had before,” Bigelow founder and CEO Robert Bigelow said here Wednesday (Oct. 12) at the 2016 International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS). “So, whether it’s Axiom or us or other people, that is the future.”
A new company, named Axiom Space LLC, was incorporated in January, 2016 in Delaware but is based in Houston. Mike Suffredini (former NASA manager of the International Space Station) serves as its president and Kam Ghaffarian, the president and chief executive of SGT, is the chief executive.
Suffredini believes that there is a robust market for a commercial space station. A study commissioned by Axiom Space concluded the addressable market for such a station could be as large as $37 billion between 2020 and 2030, combining various commercial and government uses.
Axiom Space hopes to keep building, launching and linking up modules, eventually creating an industrial “space city” of 100 or so people by the mid-2030s, Baine said.
Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace builds modules that launch in a compressed configuration and then inflate upon reaching their destination. These expandables feature much greater internal volume per unit launch mass than do traditional rigid modules, such as those that make up the ISS.
The company’s expandable habitats also offer greater protection against micrometeoroid strikes and space radiation than do aluminum-walled structures, Bigelow said.
Bigelow Aerospace has already tested three experimental modules in orbit. It launched the free-flying Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 habitats in 2006 and 2007, respectively, and the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was attached to the ISS this past April and inflated six weeks later.
When it comes to fully operational space hardware, Bigelow has something much bigger in mind — a module called the B330, which will offer 11,650 cubic feet of internal volume. (That’s 330 cubic meters, which explains the name.) For comparison, the internal pressurized volume of the entire 440-ton, $100 billion ISS is 32,333 cubic feet (916 cubic m), according to NASA.
The company aims to build two B330s over the next four years, Bigelow said.
“Our goal is to ship those out of Las Vegas in the year 2020, and launch them in 2020,” he said.
Those launches will occur atop United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets, as per an agreement between Bigelow and ULA that the two companies announced in April. The solar-powered B330 is so big that only the 552 variant of the Atlas V can loft it, Bigelow said. The Atlas 552 would be able to place 20 tons in low earth orbit.
The exterior of the B30 craft is intended to be 13.7 metres (45 ft) long by 6.7 metres (22 ft) in diameter and the module will weigh between 20,000 kilograms (45,000 lb) and 23,000 kilograms (50,000 lb)
The habitat is designed to have two solar arrays and two thermal radiator arrays for heat dissipation, as well as life support systems to sustain a crew of up to six astronauts. It will also have “a zero-g toilet with solid and liquid waste collection, semi-private berths for each crew member, exercise equipment, a food storage and preparation station, lighting, and a personal hygiene station.”
The wall thickness will be approximately 0.46 metres (18 in) when the module is fully expanded. The walls are made up of 24 to 36 layers for ballistic protection, thermal protection, radiation protection and will be as hard as concrete once the craft is fully expanded. The exterior will also feature four large windows coated with a UV protection film.
Dual-redundant control thruster systems are to be used, one using mono-propellant hydrazine and the other using gaseous hydrogen and gaseous oxygen. The latter system is refillable from the on-board environmental control system. Module-specific avionics will be provided for navigation, re-boost, docking and other on-orbit maneuvering.
Bigelow Aerospace is developing the B330 module to be compatible to mate with other spacecraft such as Russian Soyuz spacecraft, SpaceX’s Dragon V2, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, and NASA’s Orion spacecraft. The module’s large size is particularly beneficial for lunar astronauts or the crews of other long-duration space missions, which until now have been restricted to fairly cramped quarters for the several-day flight.
Bigelow Aerospace also envisions connecting multiple B330s in orbit to create large space stations. Each individual B330 is capable of supporting six people, but orbiting modules probably won’t be that crowded, Bigelow said. A station consisting of two B330s might typically host seven people — three Bigelow employees and four clients
SOURCES- Wikipedia, Space.com, Space News