Less than two weeks after Vice President Mike Pence indicated that the Trump administration plans to send astronauts to the Moon, Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced Oct. 17 that they hope to deploy an inflatable space habitat in about five years to support such lunar exploration.
The two companies said that they want to launch a Bigelow B330 habitat on ULA’s future Vulcan rocket and position it in low lunar orbit to serve as a “lunar depot” by the end of 2022. The B330 would launch at a third of its inflated size and could house up to six astronauts.
The habitat could support “long-term exploration and astronaut training” by NASA and foreign space agencies, while also will providing “anchorage for significant lunar business development,” the companies said in a joint news release.
The B330 would "provide NASA and America with an exciting and financially practical success opportunity that can be accomplished in the short term," said Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace.
While Nevada-based Bigelow and Colorado-based ULA are spending their own money to develop their respective spacecraft, making the lunar depot a reality would require investment by the U.S. government, according to Bigelow.
“Capital has already been flowing from both companies and will continue,” Bigelow spokeswoman Blair Bigelow said. “NASA and this country will need to have investment also to pay for the benefits.”
An inflatable space habitat prototype, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), has been attached to the International Space Station since last year. ULA is developing Vulcan to replace the Atlas 5, whose reliance on Russian-made engines has sparked objections from U.S. policymakers.
Pence made his Moon comments Oct. 5 during the first meeting of the newly revived National Space Council (Defense Daily, Oct. 5). He called the Moon a stepping stone to Mars and other deep-space destinations.