With the Trump administration contemplating a return to the moon and both NASA and SpaceX planning missions around Earth’s nearest neighbor, commercial space companies are starting to take notice and prepare for possible opportunities. With that idea in mind, #Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace has started tweeting about a lunar orbital space station that would be based around his B330 #Inflatable Module, according to Florida Politics.
The way it would work is that pieces of the space station would be launched using commercial launchers such as the Falcon 9 and the EELV and assembled in low Earth orbit. Then the space station would be moved to lunar orbit. Bigelow claims that the thing could be done by 2020 at a cost of $500 million plus delivery costs.
The B330 would provide 330 cubic meters of living space capable of sustaining six astronauts at a time. The idea is that the Orion deep spacecraft launched by the Space Launch system would take crews to and from the lunar orbital station. The Dragon launched on a Falcon Heavy would also be a possibility.
Crews on the lunar orbital station would be able to conduct observations of the lunar surface in real time. They could teleoperate rovers and other robotic probes to explore the moon remotely. Eventually reusable lunar landers would fly from the orbital station to a lunar base which would also be built from Bigelow inflatable modules. The station would also serve as a refueling depot, storing rocket fuel refined from lunar water, to sustain a cis-lunar transportation infrastructure as well as voyages to elsewhere in the solar system.
Bigelow has already formed a partnership with NASA by attaching a smaller inflatable module to the International Space Station, the “Bigelow Expandable Activities Module” or BEAM. Bigelow has also proposed a commercial low Earth orbit space station based around the B330 as a successor to the ISS when that facility is planned to be decommissioned sometime in the mid to late 2020s.
President Trump’s space policy is still a work in progress, but it looks like the moon will be the target and commercial partnerships will feature prominently in the effort.