If the planned Jan. 30 launch of Bigelow Aerospace’s Genesis 2 space module on a Russian Dnepr rocket is successful, Las Vegas entrepreneur Robert Bigelow plans to send a hotel-style habitat into orbit in either the second half of 2009 or the first half of 2010.
Bigelow’s Genesis 1 module was launched July 12 and continues to provide data on its condition in low Earth orbit. But while it is hosting some experiments, Genesis 1 – and Genesis 2 – will not be capable of supporting low Earth orbit space tourism, Bigelow’s ultimate goal.
But the module Bigelow plans to launch at the end of the decade would be capable of supporting visiting crews of up to three people.
At a luncheon speech today in San Jose, Calif., at the AIAA Space 2006 Symposium, Bigelow said his third module, dubbed Sundancer, would have a mass of 8,618.4 kilograms and be equipped with life support systems, attitude control, three windows, on-orbit maneuverability, reboost and de-orbit capability.
He plans to place it at an altitude of 250 nautical miles at an orbital inclination of 40 degrees. Bigelow said that while Sundancer will be a scale model of the large, human-rated habitat he eventually plans to launch into orbit, it will nonetheless have 180 cubic meters of habitable space.
"We’re pretty damn serious," Bigelow said in his lunch address.
Initially Sundancer will require a six-to-nine month period to check out all of its onboard systems. After that, Bigleow said, Sundancer would be able to stay in orbit for several years, which may be necessary since he acknowledged that at present there are no commercially available spacecraft designed to take humans into orbit.
Sundancer will, in effect, be a destination waiting for a means to get there.
With a solution to that problem in mind, Bigelow and Lockheed Martin announced today that they will jointly fund and conduct a study to determine what it would take to get Lockheed Martin’s Atlas 5 launch vehicle rated for human spaceflight.
"We appreciate the opportunity to work with the entrepreneurial and innovative company of Bigelow Aerospace to evaluate the market of space tourism and [conduct] research to determine if Atlas could be a part of this potential new market area," said George Sowers, Atlas Business Development and Advanced Programs Director at Lockheed Martin.
In a press conference following Bigelow’s speech, Sowers said Lockheed Martin already has done extensive studies on human-rating the Atlas 5 for NASA programs.
Bigelow and Sowers both acknowledged that even if the Atlas 5 is human rated, what Bigelow would have at his disposal for a crew capsule is uncertain at this point.
Bigelow’s goal is to have a commercial space station in orbit around 2012. Once Sundancer is in orbit, the plan is to launch a propulsion module that would dock at Sundancer. After the docking is completed, a full-sized module, called the BA-330 would be launched and dock with Sundancer and the propulsion module, completing the private orbital outpost.