Bigelow Commercial Space Station
The Bigelow Next-Generation Commercial Space Station is a private orbital space complex currently under development by Bigelow Aerospace. The space station will be constructed of both Sundancer and BA 330 expandable spacecraft modules as well as a central docking node, propulsion, solar arrays, and attached crew capsules. Initial launch of space station components is planned for 2014, with portions of the station available for leased use as early as 2015.
Two more formal concepts have since been put forward and made public. By 2005, Bigelow space station plans had been further conceptualized into Commercial Space Station Skywalker, or CSS Skywalker. In mid-2010, Bigelow announced their Next-Generation Commercial Space Station—later named “Space Complex Alpha”—with projected launch dates beginning in 2014 and availability for commercial leasing beginning in 2015. As of November 2010, a 2nd Bigelow Commercial Space Station—Space Complex Bravo—was scheduled to begin launches in 2016.
In the event, the initial dates for the Alpha complex were not achieved. In January 2013, the Alpha complex was specified to be an in-space assemblage of exactly two BA-330 modules, with the 1st module to be launched no earlier than 2016.
The CSS Skywalker was a 2005 concept for the 1st “space hotel” by Bigelow Aerospace. The Skywalker was designed to be composed of multiple Nautilus (BA 330) habitat modules, which would be inflated and connected upon reaching orbit. An MDPM (Multi-Directional Propulsion Module) would allow the Skywalker to be moved into interplanetary or lunar trajectories.
In short, CSS Skywalker was “an effort to build the planet’s 1st orbiting space hotel, [with a projected] room rate of $1 million a night”, and a hoped-for launch date for the 1st Nautilus module of 2010.
Early assessments of the probability of success of the technology development and challenges of a commercial space station pointed to the importance of factors largely beyond Bigelow’s control. For example, in 2005, John M. Logsdon, director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute said “I have little doubt that the basic technology is likely to work… The issue is whether there’s a transportation system that can get people or things, or both, up there.”
In practice, orbital launch plans were significantly delayed. First, after the Columbia accident in 2003, Bigelow had to compete with NASA for rides on the Russian Soyuz three-person rocket — “a distinctly untenable position.” Later, commercial launch provider SpaceX’s efforts to achieve the 1st launch of the Falcon 9 medium-lift rocket were delayed from 2008 to 2010.
In mid-2009, Bigelow announced they were continuing to develop a variety of space habitat architectures.
The Bigelow Next-Generation Commercial Space Station was announced in mid-2010. The initial configuration for the 2014/2015 space assembly is two Sundancer modules and one BA-330 module, named Space Complex Alpha after October 2010.
In 2008, Bigelow began talks with Lockheed Martin to potentially contract launch services on its Atlas V-401 vehicle for both crew and cargo launches.
By mid-2010, Bigelow was actively pursuing launch options for its space station modules and crew capsules from two launch systems: the Boeing CST-100 capsule on a ULA Atlas V launcher and also the SpaceX Dragon/Falcon 9 capsule/launcher combination. “Bigelow offers Boeing, SpaceX, and other vehicle developers… the promise of a sustained, large market for space transportation services.” With the initial Space Complex Alpha, Bigelow “would need six flights a year; with the launch of a second, larger station, that number would grow to 24, or two a month.”
Bigelow began to publicly refer to the initial configuration—two Sundancer modules and one BA-330 module— of the 1st Bigelow station as “Space Complex Alpha” in October 2010. If the entire station is leased out, it could mean up to 25 launches per year for crew and cargo. In early 2013, Bigelow Aerospace started referring to Alpha as consisting of two BA-330 modules instead of two Sundancer and one BA-330.
In October 2010, Bigelow announced that it has agreements with six sovereign nations to utilize the on-orbit facilities of the commercial space station: United Kingdom, Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, Japan and Sweden. A 7th country signed on in February 2011: the United Arab Emirate of Dubai.
As of 2010, on-orbit assembly of the Bigelow Next-Generation Commercial Space Station components was projected to begin in 2014. As of July 2010, construction of the orbital complex was projected to occur in seven principal steps, based on an operations concept that included the on-orbit addition of two Sundancer modules and one BA-330 module.
In January 2013, Bigelow Aerospace started referring to Space Station Alpha as consisting of two BA-330 modules and no Sundancer modules, but has not released an updated on-orbit assembly plan.
As of 2007 Bigelow was planning to equip its expandable space modules with both a Soyuz-style docking system on one end and a NASA-standard Low-impact Docking System on the other. The available docking port options for the Next Generation Commercial Space Station have not yet been released.
As of October 2010, “human-in-the-loop testing of the environmental control and life support system ” for Sundancer has begun.
As of January 2013, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module space station module is under development by Bigelow Aerospace, being purchased by NASA for flight to space and attachment to the International Space Station in 2015. During its planned two-year duration flight mission the expandable habitat technology module’s structural integrity, leak rate, radiation dosage and temperature changes will be monitored.
Potential launch options are in the mid-heavy lift launch system class of launch vehicles, where Bigelow has now negotiated arrangements with two commercial launch providers. As of January 2013, both SpaceX—using the Dragon— and United Launch Alliance/Boeing—using the Atlas V/CST-100—have signed to deliver launch services to Bigelow Space Station Alpha.
In February 2011, Bigelow announced that it would begin launching its unmanned space station modules in 2014 from Cape Canaveral using ULA Atlas V launch vehicles.
In addition to the Atlas launches for the expandable modules, Bigelow has reserved a single 2014 launch on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but has not yet announced the payload. The Falcon 9 may be rated for crew launches by 2014. As of August 2011, press reports indicate that Bigelow will launch at least some of their crews to the station on the human-rated Atlas V utilizing the Boeing CST-100 seven-person space capsule.
In late 2010, Bigelow indicated that the company would like to construct ten or more space stations and that there is a substantial commercial market to support such growth.
A 2nd orbital station—Space Complex Bravo—is scheduled to begin launches in 2016 and go into commercial operation in 2017. This complex would consist of four BA 330 modules.