You may remember this little Obama quote about the Post Office . . .
Not the best way to advertise for Government “Single-Payer” Health Care. Nor is it the best way to run a Space Station apparently, as Space.com notes that private enterprise is about to rock NASA to it’s core:
A Bigelow official flew to Denver in July to privately brief a White House-charted panel on the suggested design based on the planned Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, which will carry passengers to and from low Earth orbit.
Such a system is crucial to Bigelow’s plans for deploying Sundancer, an inflatable space station module the North Las Vegas, Nev.-based firm is building based on NASA’s Transhab design. In search of the means to transport paying passengers to Sundancer, Bigelow has spent the past two years working with Denver-based United Launch Alliance to study a human-rated version of the Atlas 5 rocket.
Bigelow’s crew capsule design is modeled on the Orion vehicle that Lockheed Martin — one of United Launch Alliance’s corporate parents — is developing for NASA.
In a July 30 interview with Space News, Mike Gold, director of Bigelow’s Washington office, said he believes a low Earth-orbit optimized version of Orion could be ready to launch atop a human-rated version of the Atlas 5 within three or four years — much sooner than NASA’s discredited March 2015 target for the first crewed launch of Orion and its Ares I rocket.
Gold said the Bigelow capsule would have the same outer mold line as NASA’s 16-foot (5-meter) wide Orion and possibly the same internal pressure vessel, but little else in common.
For starters, NASA expects the lunar-capable Orion crew capsule and propellant-laden service module to weigh well in excess of about 40,000 pounds . Gold said the envisioned vehicle would be light enough to launch atop an Atlas 5 capable of lofting 27,557 pounds into low Earth orbit. Gold said the Bigelow capsule would also be capable of launching atop the Falcon 9 rocket Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) hopes to debut this year.
“I don’t think there’s any question that a commercial capsule can be constructed, tested and launched years before the existing Orion plan will come together, if it ever does,” Gold said. A start-up venture founded in the late 1990s by real estate mogul Robert Bigelow, the company currently has two subscale expandable space modules in orbit.
“We have a history of leveraging existing technology as demonstrated by the Dnepr missions, and utilizing a commercial capsule simply follows in the pragmatic path we have begun upon,” Gold said. “We will soon be moving forward with solicitations focused on the airframe and getting quotes from various subcontractors.”
But while NASA’s Orion is intended to carry up to six people to the International Space Station and four to the Moon, Gold said Bigelow’s commercial variant will accommodate a minimum of seven passengers because it is intended for low Earth-orbit missions only. That eliminates the need for bulky propellant tanks, extremely robust heat shields and other lunar-driven requirements that add mass to NASA’s Orion design.
In addition, sources said, Lockheed Martin has a number of preflight Orion capsules planned for testing purposes that could be turned into flight vehicles for Bigelow.
Bigelow is not the only private space company venturing into the realm of manned spaceflight: SpaceX plans to fit at least seven crewmembers aboard its Dragon cargo and crew capsule designed for trips to and from the space station.
“However, we would be foolish to depend completely on one capsule provider or any single launch system,” Gold said. “Therefore, it’s vital from both a practical and business perspective to ensure that SpaceX and Dragon aren’t the only options available to us, hence the need for another capsule.”
Man, that is sweet! Two different private companies flying into space, and one of them building their own space station. I can’t wait!
And, of course, if a private contractor is building it’s own spacecraft and space station, you don’t run into that nasty problem of shoveling tons of pork into the government project that make for cost overruns and delays.
Like Orion is having now. Originally scheduled to fly in 2012, they’re publicly saying 2015, although no one thinks that target is even remotely close. Personally, I say sell all the capsules and Pressure vessels to Bigelow that they want. Private spaceflight sounds pretty exciting to me.