Bigelow Commercial Space Station

Bigelow Commercial Space Station

The Bigelow Next-Generation Commercial Space Station is a private orbital space complex currently under development by Bigelow Aerospace. The space station will be constructed of both Sundancer and BA 330 expandable spacecraft modules as well as a central docking node, propulsion, solar arrays, and attached crew capsules. Initial launch of space station components is planned for 2014, with portions of the station available for leased use as early as 2015.[1]


Early work at Bigelow Aerospace on expandable space habitats, with plans to eventually assemble them into on-orbit space stations, began in the early years after the company was formed in 1999. By 2004, plans made public included assembly of multiple modules "into a manned space facility in low Earth orbit for both privately- and publicly-funded research and for space tourism." [2]

Two more formal concepts have since been put forward and made public. By 2005, Bigelow space station plans had been further conceptualized into Commercial Space Station Skywalker, or CSS Skywalker.[3] In mid-2010, Bigelow announced their Next-Generation Commercial Space Station—later named "Space Complex Alpha"[4]—with projected launch dates beginning in 2014 and availability for commercial leasing beginning in 2015.[1] As of November 2010, a second Bigelow Commercial Space Station—Space Complex Bravo—was scheduled to begin launches in 2016.[5]

In the event, the initial dates for the Alpha complex were not achieved. In January 2013, the Alpha complex was specified to be an in-space assemblage of exactly two BA-330 modules, with the first module to be launched no earlier than 2016.[6]

CSS Skywalker

CSS Skywalker
Station statistics
Crew 5–7
Mass 100,000 kg (220,000 lb)[7]
Height 30.0 m (98.4 ft)[7]
Diameter 6.7 m (22 ft)[7]
Pressurised volume 1,500 m3 (53,000 cu ft)[7]

The CSS Skywalker (Commercial Space Station Skywalker) was a 2005 concept for the first "space hotel" by Bigelow Aerospace.[3] The Skywalker was designed to be composed of multiple Nautilus (BA 330) habitat modules, which would be inflated and connected upon reaching orbit. An MDPM (Multi-Directional Propulsion Module) would allow the Skywalker to be moved into interplanetary or lunar trajectories.[7]

In short, CSS Skywalker was "an effort to build the planet’s first orbiting space hotel, [with a projected] room rate of $1 million a night", and a hoped-for launch date for the first Nautilus module of 2010.[3]

Company challenges

Early assessments of the probability of success of the technology development and challenges of a commercial space station pointed to the importance of factors largely beyond Bigelow's control. For example, in 2005, John M. Logsdon, director of transportation system that can get people or things, or both, up there."[3]

In practice, orbital launch plans were significantly delayed. First, after the Columbia accident in 2003, Bigelow had to compete with NASA for rides on the Russian Soyuz three-person rocket — "a distinctly untenable position."[3][8] Later, commercial launch provider SpaceX's efforts to achieve the first launch of the Falcon 9 medium-lift rocket were delayed from 2008 to 2010.[9]

In mid-2009, Bigelow announced they were continuing to develop a variety of space habitat architectures.[10]

The Bigelow Next-Generation Commercial Space Station was announced in mid-2010.[1] The initial configuration for the 2014/2015 space assembly is two Sundancer modules and one BA-330 module,[11] named Space Complex Alpha after October 2010.[4]

Space transport

In 2008, Bigelow initially began talks with Lockheed Martin to potentially contract launch services on its Atlas V-401 vehicle for both crew and cargo launches.[12][13]

By mid-2010, Bigelow was actively pursuing launch options for its space station modules and crew capsules from two launch systems: the Boeing CST-100 capsule on a ULA Atlas V launcher and also the SpaceX Dragon/Falcon 9 capsule/launcher combination.[11] "Bigelow offers Boeing, SpaceX, and other vehicle developers ... the promise of a sustained, large market for space transportation services."[4] With the initial Space Complex Alpha, Bigelow "would need six flights a year; with the launch of a second, larger station, that number would grow to 24, or two a month."[4] After 2010, no further concrete plans have been announced for transport with Atlas V launch vehicles.

In May 2012, almost simultaneously with the successful mission of SpaceX's Dragon capsule, launched by SpaceX's Falcon 9 vehicle, to the International Space Station, Bigelow and SpaceX jointly announced that they were teaming to offer private crewed missions to space, promoting the Bigelow space station and SpaceX transport systems.[14] [15] [16]

As of 2014, plans call for transport of humans and resupply cargo to the station to be via a SpaceX Dragon V2, with a round-trip seat priced at US$26.5 million. Lease of the on-orbit stations is priced at US$25 million to rent one-third of a BA-330 module for 60 days. The BA-330 modules and any of several tugs are planned for launch aboard a Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.[17]

Space Complex Alpha

Space Complex Alpha
Station statistics
Crew Up to 12
Pressurised volume 690 m3 (24,000 cu ft)
A full-scale mockup of Bigelow Aerospace's Space Station Alpha inside their Nevada facility.

Bigelow began to publicly refer to the initial configuration—two Sundancer modules and one BA-330 module— of the first Bigelow station as "Space Complex Alpha" in October 2010.[4] If the entire station is leased out, it could mean up to 25 launches per year for crew and cargo.[18] In early 2013, Bigelow Aerospace started referring to Alpha as consisting of two BA-330 modules instead of two Sundancer and one BA-330.[6]

In October 2010, Bigelow announced that it has agreements with six sovereign nations to utilize the on-orbit facilities of the commercial space station: United Kingdom, Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, Japan and Sweden.[19] A seventh country signed on in February 2011: the United Arab Emirate of Dubai.[20]

Orbital complex construction

In 2010, Bigelow Aerospace began building a large production facility in North Las Vegas, Nevada to produce the space modules. The 181,000 square feet (16,800 m2) facility will include three production lines for three distinct spacecraft, doubling the amount of floor space at Bigelow and transitioning the focus from research and development to production. Bigelow expects to hire approximately 1200 new employees to staff the plant, with production commencing in early 2012.[21][22] Construction would require three medium lift launches and one heavy lift launch.[23] In October 2011 Reuters reported that Bigelow had, "pared its 115-member workforce to 51 [...] because of delays developing space taxis needed to fly people to the outposts."[24]

As of 2010, on-orbit assembly of the Bigelow Next-Generation Commercial Space Station components was projected to begin in 2014. As of July 2010, construction of the orbital complex was projected to occur in seven principal steps,[1] based on an operations concept that included the on-orbit addition of two Sundancer modules and one BA-330 module.[1]

  • Unit 1: Sundancer-one module, with a pressurized volume of 180 cubic meters (m3), (unoccupied)
  • Unit 2: Commercial crew capsule arrives with Bigelow Aerospace astronauts to set up Sundancer-one and carry additional supplies
  • Unit 3: Supplemental power bus and docking node
  • Unit 4: Sundancer-two
  • Unit 5: Second commercial crew capsule brings additional crew and supplies, and provides a redundant method for crew return to Earth.
  • Unit 6: BA 330 larger-volume module (330 m3)
  • Unit 7: Third commercial crew capsule brings additional supplies and provides a double-redundant, robust solution for astronaut re-entry.

In January 2013, Bigelow Aerospace started referring to Space Station Alpha as consisting of two BA-330 modules and no Sundancer modules, but has not (as of January 2013) released an updated on-orbit assembly plan.

Commercial leasing

In January 2013, Bigelow announced that they would sell naming rights to the dual-BA-330-module Alpha complex for USD$25 million per year.[6] 2014-announced prices for human access to the space station would be USD$26.25 million aboard a SpaceX Dragon, or USD$36.75 million aboard a Boeing CST-100.[6] The price for a two-month lease of one-third of a module (approximately 110 cubic metres (3,900 cu ft)) was announced to be USD$25 million.[6]


Docking system

As of 2007 Bigelow was planning to equip its expandable space modules with both a Soyuz-style docking system on one end and a NASA-standard Low-impact Docking System on the other.[25] The available docking port options for the Next Generation Commercial Space Station have not yet been released.

Test program

As of October 2010, "human-in-the-loop testing of the environmental control and life support system (ECLSS)" for Sundancer has begun.[26]

As of January 2013, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) space station module is under development by Bigelow Aerospace, being purchased by NASA for flight to space and attachment to the International Space Station in 2015.[6] During its planned two-year duration flight mission the expandable habitat technology module's structural integrity, leak rate, radiation dosage and temperature changes will be monitored.[27][28]

Launch planning

Potential launch options are in the mid-heavy lift launch system class of launch vehicles, where Bigelow has now negotiated arrangements with two commercial launch providers. As of January 2013, both SpaceX—using the Dragon— and United Launch Alliance/Boeing—using the Atlas V/CST-100—have signed to deliver launch services to Bigelow Space Station Alpha.[6]

In February 2011, Bigelow announced that it would begin launching its unmanned space station modules in 2014 from Cape Canaveral using ULA Atlas V launch vehicles.[29]

In addition to the Atlas launches for the expandable modules, Bigelow has reserved a single 2014 launch on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket,[30] but has not yet announced the payload. The Falcon 9 may be rated for crew launches by 2014. As of August 2011, press reports indicate that Bigelow will launch at least some of their crews to the station on the human-rated Atlas V utilizing the Boeing CST-100 seven-person space capsule.[31]

Long-term plans

In late 2010, Bigelow indicated that the company would like to construct ten or more space stations and that there is a substantial commercial market to support such growth.[32]

Future space station concepts

Space Complex Bravo
Station statistics
Crew Up to 24
Pressurised volume 1,320 m3 (47,000 cu ft)

A second orbital station—Space Complex Bravo—is scheduled to begin launches in 2016[5] and go into commercial operation in 2017.[33] This complex would consist of four BA 330 modules.

Bigelow has publicly shown space station design configurations with up to nine BA-330 modules containing 100,000 cu ft (2,800 m3) of habitable space[19] The conceptual configurations are listed below.[34]

  • Advanced Medical Facility (3000 m3) - Nine BA 330 modules, three propulsion buses with docking node, three crew capsules.
  • Biological Containment Station Low Earth Orbit (2800 m3 habitable, 660 m3 remotely controlled)
  • Biological Research Station Low Earth Orbit (2000 m3)
  • Deep Space Complex (1320 m3) - Four BA 330 modules, nine propulsion buses with docking node and three docking ports.
  • Lunar Depot Ares (990 m3) - Three BA 330 modules, four propulsion buses with docking nodes. The entire station would land directly onto the moon. It is intended to hold 12 astronauts but is capable of holding 18. Near the lunar base there would be a solar array field.[35] A model of this concept has been built.
  • Mars Exploration (1320 m3) - Four BA 330 modules, three propulsion buses with docking node.
  • Resupply Depot Hercules (8300 m3) - Six BA 330 modules, three BA 2100 modules, nine propulsion buses with docking node and three crew capsules.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Bigelow Aerospace — Next-Generation Commercial Space Stations: Orbital Complex Construction, Bigelow Aerospace, accessed 2010-07-15.
  2. ^ Inflatable privately owned orbital facilities, The Space Review, 2004-07-19, accessed 2010-07-16.
  3. ^ a b c d e The Five-Billion-Star Hotel, 1 Mar 2005
  4. ^ a b c d e Bigelow still thinks big, The Space Review, 2010-11-01, accessed 2010-11-02.
  5. ^ a b Balloons in Space: A History,, 2010-11-12, accessed 2010-11-14.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Lindsey, Clark (2013-01-17). "More on the Bigelow module for the ISS and on the Bigelow station". NewSpace Watch. Retrieved 2013-01-18. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "CSS Skywalker". Encyclopedia Astronautica, accessed 2010-07-16.
  8. ^ Leonard David (November 8, 2004). "'"Exclusive: Rules Set for $50 Million 'America’s Space Prize. Space News. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-06. 
  9. ^ "SpaceX Achieves Key Milestone of Tenth Launch Agreement". El Segundo, CA, USA: SpaceX. 2006-05-30. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  10. ^ Space Hotel Visionary Proposes Modified "Orion Lite" Spaceship for NASA, 14 Aug 2009
  11. ^ a b Bigelow Marketing Inflatable Space Stations, Aviation Week, 2010-05-06, accessed 2010-10-30.
  12. ^ "Bigelow Aerospace and Lockheed Martin Converging on Terms for Launch Services" (Press release). Bigelow Aerospace. 2008-02-05. Retrieved 2008-03-09. 
  13. ^ No major hurdles to upgrade Atlas V rockets for people, David Shiga,, 2008-02-07, accessed 2010-07-20
  14. ^ "Spacex and Bigelow Aerospace Join Forces to Offer Crewed Missions to Private Space" (Press release). Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Bigelow Aerospace (BA). 2012-05-10. Retrieved 2012-06-08. 
  15. ^ Klingler, Dave (2012-05-10). "SpaceX, Bigelow announce private space station alliance". ARS Technica. Retrieved 2012-06-08. 
  16. ^ Thomson, Iain (2012-05-11). "SpaceX and Bigelow sign deal for inflatable space stations in orbit". The Register. 
  17. ^ Grondin, Yves-A. (2014-02-07). "Affordable habitats means more Buck Rogers for less money says Bigelow". Retrieved 2014-06-10. 
  18. ^ - Private Spaceflight Innovators Attract NASA's Attention (07 February 2011)
  19. ^ a b Bigelow Aerospace Shows Off Bigger, Badder Space Real Estate, Popular Mechanics, 2010-10-28, accessed 2010-11-02.
  20. ^ Klotz, Irene (2011-02-04). "Bigelow Floats Plan For Florida Space Coast". Aviation Week. Retrieved 2011-02-11. 
  21. ^ "I-Team: Bigelow Aerospace Begins Big Expansion". 8 News NOW. 2011-02-04. Retrieved 2-11-02-05. Bigelow expects the plant to be open for business by this time next year. It means his lean workforce of 115 would expand by an additional 1,200 new positions -- engineers, technicians, and support staff. "The only purpose this addition has is for production. We have three spacecraft, three production lines and the assembly plant you would normally have," [Bigelow] said. ... "Seven countries have already signed on." 
  22. ^ "Bigelow Aerospace Expansions Underway". Bigelow Aerospace. 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-07. An expansion of the factory will double the amount of floor space as the Bigelow Aerospace company begins the transition from research and development to production. ... Width ~700 ft. Area = 180,572 sq. ft. 
  23. ^ Bigelow Aerospace's Space Station
  24. ^ "Space taxi delays spur Bigelow Aerospace layoffs". Reuters. Oct 19, 2011. Retrieved Oct 28, 2011. 
  25. ^ Covault, Craig (2007-04-08). "Bigelow Reveals Business Plan". Aviation Week. Retrieved 2010-07-20. equipped with a Soyuz type docking system at one end and a new NASA developed advanced lightweight Low Impact Docking System on the other end 
  26. ^ Volunteers Test Bigelow Life-Support Gear, Aviation Week, 2010-10-22, accessed 2010-10-23.
  27. ^ Marks, Paul (2012-01-16). "NASA buys blow-up habitat for space station astronauts". NewScientist. Retrieved 2013-01-18. 
  28. ^ "NASA to Test Bigelow Expandable Module on Space Station". NASA. 16 January 2013. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  29. ^ Ward, Kenric (2011-02-03). "Nevada Aerospace Company Aims for Florida". Sunshine State News. Retrieved 2010-02-08. the North Las Vegas firm announced it intends to launch its first Orbital Space Complex from the Cape in 2014. The inflatable modules would be carried on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets. ... By 2017, Bigelow projects a need for 20 to 25 launches per year to send crew and cargo to commercial space stations. 
  30. ^ "SpaceX Launch Manifest, copyright 2010, 'last update' date unknown". 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-20. 
  31. ^ Malik, Tariq (2011-08-04). "Boeing Needs Space Pilots for Spaceship & Rocket Test Flights". Retrieved 2011-08-07. The spacecraft is not only intended for trips to the International Space Station, but also to ferry crews to future private space stations like the inflatable habitats envisioned by the Las Vegas-based company Bigelow Aerospace. 
  32. ^ Space, Inc. moving closer to launch: Private companies put forth some lofty ideas for space travel . . . and they're closer to reality than you might think, Florida Today, 2010-11-14, accessed 2010-12-05. "We hope to build a number of commercial space stations, not just one or two. We'd like to have 10 or 15 or 20. We think the markets are substantial, so that's exactly what we're trying to accomplish"
  33. ^ Halvorson, Todd (2010-11-14). "Space, Inc. moving closer to launch: Private companies put forth some lofty ideas for space travel . . . and they're closer to reality than you might think". Florida Today. Retrieved 2011-02-23. A second, larger outpost would follow in 2016 and go into operation in 2017. 
  34. ^ Bigelow Event
  35. ^ David, Leonard (2010-04-14). "Private Moon Bases a Hot Idea for Space Pioneer". Archived from the original on 3 April 2011. Retrieved 11 April 2011. 

External links

  • Boeing promotional video of CST-100 capsule docking with the Bigelow Commercial Space Station
  • UK Astronomy Technology Centre space telescope MOU with Bigelow