Aerospace companies Bigelow Aerospace and the United Launch Alliance (ULA) have announced plans to launch a large space capsule that will eventually help astronauts plan for future space exploration missions. By 2022, this inflatable habitat will orbit the moon.
Bigelow Aerospace is designing the B330 expandable module that will serve as a space station. The size of the B330 module is about one-third that of the ISS (International Space Station). ULA will provide the Vulcan 562-configuration rocket upon which this module will be carried to low-Earth orbit.
Once the B330 module is in low-Earth orbit, Bigelow Aerospace plans to outfit the inflatable habitat with supplies. When it’s ready, ULA will then make use of two more Vulcan ACES rockets to push the module into low-lunar orbit.
The two aerospace companies intend to provide a platform that will allow astronauts to undertake their training and private companies to test their technologies.
“We are excited to work with ULA on this lunar depot project,” said Bigelow Aerospace president Robert Bigelow in a statement. “Our lunar depot plan is a strong complement to other plans intended to eventually put people on Mars. It will provide NASA and America with an exciting and financially practical success opportunity that can be accomplished in the short term. This lunar depot could be deployed easily by 2022 to support the nation’s re-energized plans for returning to the Moon.”