In a joint press release on May 11, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Bigelow Aerospace announced an agreement to market private space station residence to international customers. The SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle would deliver passengers to and from the Bigelow BA 330 habitat.
“SpaceX and BA have a lot in common. Both companies were founded to help create a new era in space enterprise,” said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. “Together we will provide unique opportunities to entities — whether nations or corporations — wishing to have crewed access to the space environment for extended periods.”
The BA 330 is an inflatable habitat including 330 cubic meters of usable space and could support a crew of six. The companies expect that initial visitors would be space researchers. Multiple habitats could be attached for expanded operations.
Two unmanned Bigelow stations are already in space. Genesis 1 and 2 were launch 2006-2007 on Russian rockets. A scaled up version of the Genesis is in the works. Called the BEAM for Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, the upgrade could be attached to the International Space Station. That step, however, would be subject to NASA commitment.
Bigelow does not have launch capability, so is dependent on development of commercial crew operators like SpaceX for shuttling flight participants to and from the proposed space stations. Based on current projections from the NASA commercial crew development program and provided funding levels are maintained, such commercial crew flights could begin in 2017.
Bigelow reports that the BA 330 sports better radiation protection than the International Space Station with reduced secondary radiation effects and an innovative debris shield demonstrated via hypervelocity testing to be “superior to that of the traditional ‘aluminum can’ designs” according to Bigelow’s website.
SpaceX and Bigelow will kick off the marketing campaign in Japan after the launch of the SpaceX Dragon capsule to the International Space Station, now scheduled for May 19.
The video below shows a BA 330 launched aboard an Atlas V rocket.