Robert Bigelow, founder and President of Bigelow Aerospace, believes that cost effective habitats and transportation systems are key to America’s space explorations ambitions throughout the solar system. In expansive documentation provided to NASA, Bigelow Aerospace presented a fleet of vehicles that could enable humanity’s ambitions.
In the first of two reports recently issued to NASA – but not made public – under an unfunded space act agreement (known as the “Gate 1 Report”), Bigelow indicated that he believes that “without cost effective human habitats, America’s human space exploration ambitions throughout our solar system isn’t going to happen.”
The Las Vegas based company – best known for their inflatable modules that have already enjoyed technology demonstrations in space – also believes the United States must have “cost effective transportation to low Earth orbit and everywhere else.” – and that his company can help provide both of these elements.
Per the documentation, Bigelow Aerospace will be contracting for a family of transit tugs that it needs for its inflatable habitats, claiming NASA can take advantage of his tugs without having to pay any research and development for them, while adding “SpaceX, Boeing and the Sierra Nevada Corporation are all now working on the future of space transportation systems, not just for low Earth orbit, but in many instances for use beyond LEO as well.”
Bigelow writes in the Gate 1 report that cost reduction of rocket technology has never been addressed by NASA and that the commercial sector can help in this respect.
“Until recently, the commercial sector has been locked out. All of the usual cost per lb. calculations everyone uses are all based on the wrong production metrics,” Bigelow noted.
“They are government costs in partnership with parochial contractors with no connection to the real world. Under the right leadership, the costs of habitable systems and transportation can be drastically reduced from what has been the usual American experience.”
Drastically reducing the price for crew transportation is very important for Bigelow.
In an interview with NASASpaceflight.com, Mike Gold, Director of D.C. Operations at Bigelow, emphasized the importance Mr. Bigelow holds for affordable crew taxi rides – spacecraft capable of ferrying up to seven passengers or crew up to his future inflatable habitats.
Mr. Gold indicated that Bigelow’s business case does not hold true if they were to use Russian transportation, given the fact that the Soyuz only holds three persons – one of which is the pilot – which would be insufficient for their habitats.
Per the reports, Bigelow is proposing the utilization of his BA-330, his Olympus modules and his family of tugs as examples of cost effective habitats and transportation systems that can be used by NASA for the purpose of exploring the solar system.
The BA 330 Habitat:
The documentation supplied to NASA provides a description and a price list of the habitats that he can offer the agency.
The BA 330 is Bigelow’s multi-purpose habitat, provided in various configurations, depending on its destinations.
The basic version, the BA 330, is a habitat for Low Earth orbit (LEO). As its name suggest, the BA 330 has 330 cubic meters of pressurized volume. It can sustain a crew of up to six astronauts.
Around the perimeter of the airlock of the BA-330 are two propulsive thrusters. The aft propulsion module system uses monopropellant hydrazine (non-refillable), while the forward propulsion system is regulated gaseous hydrogen/gaseous oxygen system that is refillable through the Environmental Control and Life Support (“ECLS”) oxygen generation system.
The habitat has four arrays which are extended from the forward airlock, with two electricity producing photo-voltaic arrays and two radiators.
The BA-330 will use the appropriate NASA Docking Systems (“NDS”) to support visiting vehicles, in order to attach multiple modules.
The BA 330 should have all the necessities for a long term stay in space for NASA or foreign astronauts.
The Gate 1 Report indicates that it should 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, ample lighting, and a personal hygiene station.”
It has a design lifetime of a minimum of twenty years, with systems designed to be double fault tolerant.
The second of the two reports issued by Bigelow to NASA – known as the “Gate 2 Report” – contains a price list for the various versions of the habitats that are offered by Bigelow to NASA, foreign governments and private entities.
For commercial customers, the BA 330 would cost $25M in order to rent a third of the station (i.e., 110 cubic meters) for a period of 60 days. A taxi seat aboard SpaceX’s Dragonrider to the BA-330 would cost $26.5M per seat.
These prices would include consumables, all on board research equipment, a full time Bigelow Aerospace crew, astronaut training and the ability to take several kilograms of finished research products back to Earth.
According to Mr. Gold, the Bigelow crew would include a pilot and possibly another person responsible for the station keeping.
Despite these attractive prices, Bigelow confirmed – during the press conference that followed the release of the Gate 2 report – that no agreement has yet been signed with customers for his BA-330 but he indicated that this was on purpose. He said that until commercial crew is ready, he cannot finalize any contract with potential customers.
New Ideas for Cooperation in Space:
In the Gate 1 Report, Bigelow suggests that NASA could use two of his BA-330 modules as Low Earth Orbit “Service Stations”.
NASA could use these platforms for a variety of needs, including trying out hardware that won’t fit on or inside the ISS.
“The BA-330s could be used by NASA for outfitting and (for) preparatory exercises for eventual deployment somewhere outside of low Earth orbit,” Bigelow notes in the report, adding the company could supply NASA with a complete service package of all transportation and other supplies necessary for the use of these service stations.
These habitats could also be used commercially by foreign astronauts in order to keep costs down for NASA.
Bigelow identified synergies between private interests and NASA’s exploration interest for a “long duration vegetable system”, which could produce as much as 20 percent of the food that astronauts consume.
“The need for remotely located astronauts to grow and harvest some percentage of the food they consume is also of serious interest to (both) Bigelow Aerospace and NASA,” added the report.
The utilization of medical facilities in space, which could be used for emergency surgery, is also cited, with Bigelow suggesting that the BA-330s could be used jointly by NASA and Bigelow in both of the aforementioned roles.
Family of Tugs:
The documentation also portrays a family of tugs that could be used in conjunction with Bigelow habitats for use beyond Low Earth Orbit.
The fleet consists of the Standard Transit Tug, the Solar Generator Tug, the Docking Node Transporter and the Spacecraft Capture Tug.
These tugs could be used to push the various Bigelow Habitats – and other payloads – to specific destinations in LEO, L2, Cislunar space and beyond.
The four tugs are designed to be grouped together in various combinations, depending on the mission requirements. Notably, they are sized for launch on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.
The tugs could be launched independently, prior to rendezvous with other elements in LEO to form a complete transport system. Each of these tugs share propulsion, docking and avionic systems.
The Standard Transit Tug is shown to have simple docking adapters at its fore and aft, in order to allow multiple vehicles to be joined together.
The documentation notes the Standard Transit Tug could be used for the propulsion of a habitat, or for another payload. Multiple Transit Tugs could also be used to push one payload, in a scenario where once a tug’s fuel is depleted, it is released and the next stage takes over.
The Solar Generator Tug is designed to transport large solar panels to a Bigelow habitat, or to another payload. The solar arrays could either be deployed in LEO, or once it arrives at its mission destination. It will have docking adapters on both ends, in order to allow other tugs to be attached to it.
The Docking Node Transporter Tug is shown to have a five port docking node which allows visiting spacecraft or other habitats to be docked together. The rest of the tug has propulsion elements that are similar to the ones found in the Standard Transit Tug.
The avionics and communication equipment can be placed inside the pressurized habitable volume of the docking node, in order to provide a more benign environment.
The spacecraft capture tug is designed to allow the vehicle to capture various objects in space, such as disabled spacecraft, satellites or small asteroids.
The vehicle will be able to “return the captured object to a designated location for further actions, such as extravehicular activity servicing of a satellite at a space station,” as outlined in the documentation.
This tug is shown to have “two grapple arms with multiple joints to allow a full range of motion and the grasping of a relatively close object,” with the forward end hosting the grapple arms and the associated avionics. The rest of the tug will be a propulsion system.
The BA 330-DS:
The documentation also offers NASA a deep space version of its habitat, the BA 330-DS, for use beyond Low Earth Orbit. The BA 330-DS could be used by NASA, for example, at a Lagrange point or in lunar orbit.
The BA 330-DS would be very similar to its LEO version. The main difference would be related to radiation shielding.
“Although the BA 330-DS has the same physical dimensions as the BA 330, the BA 330-DS is outfitted with a full complement of water tiles that surround the interior. (The BA 330 (only) provides water tiles for sleeping quarters.) This produces most of the delta-v in weight (between the two modules),” the Gate 2 report notes.
“The balance of additional mass includes priority attention to radiation hardening of avionics and the weight of additional medical facilities, hardware and spare parts.”
The BA 330-DS would be launched by either a Falcon Heavy or an Atlas 552 to LEO, before being tugged – or pushed – to lunar orbit, or to other desired destinations.
Although Bigelow is not ready to publicly disclose the prices for renting or for the astronaut taxi ride to a lunar orbiting BA-330-DS, the company notes the price for both of these items would be “very reasonable”.
The documentation envisions a taxi seat to a lunar orbiting BA 330-DS would be offered by SpaceX via a crewed version of Dragon and Falcon Heavy.
The BA 330-MDS:
In the report, Bigelow also offers NASA the deluxe version of his inflatable habitat, the BA 330-MDS (Modified Deep Space) for use on the Moon or on other foreign bodies.
This expandable module is configured with appropriate landing propulsion busses to allow for landing on a celestial body.
It is very similar to the BA 330-DS, except that it sports enhancements to land on a solid surface.
Bigelow writes in the Gate 1 report that they would prefer to land the lander as a lunar base.
Once landed, they will cover the habitats with regolith, using very simple methods that do not require any kind of machinery.
Bigelow envisions the BA 330-MDS travelling to the Moon with two Docking Node Transporters, docked to each side of a BA 330-MDS.
Added to these two tugs would be four Standard Transit Tugs, which would be used to travel from LEO to lunar orbit. Each Transit Tug would be released as its fuel is expended.
The BA 330-MDS would land on the Moon with the two Docking Node Transporters on each side.
The solar arrays on the Docking Node Transporters could provide sufficient power to the lunar BA 330-MDS, until a larger solar field is deployed.
In the Gate 1 Report, Bigelow is offering NASA its Olympus model as a potential payload for the Space Launch System (SLS) for use in Low Earth Orbit or beyond.
The Olympus module resembles the BA-330, but at a much larger scale. It has 2,258 cubic meters of internal volume and can accommodate a crew of 24 to 30 astronauts.
It uses a multiple deck concept which allows it to be configured for the needs of multiple programs and has a minimum design lifetime of 20 years.
The documentation states that “concepts are being developed for hydroponics, medical, science and fitness decks,” as part of its development cycle.
Although the Olympus module is being offered as a potential payload for SLS, the Gate 1 Report indicates that it could possibly also be launched on a Falcon Heavy.
During the press conference following the release of the Gate 2 Report, Bigelow indicated that the Olympus would not be manufactured in Las Vegas, given that it needs to be assembled near a waterway, given its large size.
Also included in the Gate 1 report, Bigelow presents NASA with an interesting modified version of the Olympus, which would be a craft carrier.
The Olympus carrier module can dock a spacecraft, lander or satellite inside the module.
The craft would enter through a large forward airlock and then proceed to the interior of the module. A system of docking adapters would be available inside the carrier module.
The craft would then be inside of the pressurized Olympus carrier where astronauts could work on it.
The carrier module would maintain multiple deck levels and would have the same support facilities that also exist on the non-carrier version of the Olympus.
Announcement Coming Soon:
Mr. Gold indicated that having NASA as a customer or partner is very important for Bigelow.
He indicated that the recent passage of the FY 2014 Omnibus bill should help NASA being able to announce new programs or initiatives.
Mr. Gold also noted that Bigelow is currently in negotiation with NASA for further activities and is cautiously optimistic that they will be able to make an announcement soon.
Part 2 of this Bigelow feature will be published next week.
(Images: via Bigelow Aerospace with permission. Raw imagery – scanned from the paper (no digital version) Gate Reports – are available in L2).
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