In a move intended to align with the National Space Council's call for NASA to return to the Moon, the United Launch Alliance intends to launch a Bigelow Aerospace B330 inflatable module into low Earth orbit, and later boost it into lunar orbit [theverge.com] using a rocket which can have propellant transferred to it from another rocket:
Bigelow Aerospace, a company devoted to manufacturing inflatable space habitats, says it's planning to put one of its modules into orbit around the Moon [ulalaunch.com] within the next five years. The module going to lunar space will be the B330, Bigelow's design concept for a standalone habitat that can function autonomously as a commercial space station. The plan is for the B330 to serve as something of a lunar depot, where private companies can test out new technologies, or where astronauts can stay to undergo training for deep space missions.
"Our lunar depot plan is a strong complement to other plans intended to eventually put people on Mars," Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace, said in a statement. "It will provide NASA and America with an exciting and financially practical success opportunity that can be accomplished in the short term."
To put the habitat in lunar orbit, Bigelow is looking to get a boost from the United Launch Alliance. The B330 is slated to launch on top of ULA's future rocket, the Vulcan, which is supposed to begin missions no earlier than 2019. The plan is for the Vulcan to loft the B330 into lower Earth orbit, where it will stay for one year to demonstrate that it works properly in space. During that time, Bigelow hopes to send supplies to the station and rotate crew members in and out every few months.
After that, it'll be time to send the module to the Moon. ULA will launch two more Vulcan rockets, leaving both of the vehicles' upper stages in orbit. Called ACES, for Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage, these stages can remain in space, propelling other spacecraft to farther out destinations. ULA plans to transfer all of the propellant from one ACES to the other, using the fully fueled stage to propel the B330 the rest of the way to lunar orbit.
Previously: Moon Base Could Cost Just $10 Billion Due to New Technologies [soylentnews.org]
Should We Skip Mars for Now and Go to the Moon Again? [soylentnews.org]
How to Get Back to the Moon in 4 Years, Permanently [soylentnews.org]
Buzz Aldrin: Retire the ISS to Reach Mars [soylentnews.org]
China to Send Potato Farming Test Probe to the Moon [soylentnews.org]
Stephen Hawking Urges Nations to Pursue Lunar Base and Mars Landing [soylentnews.org]
Lockheed Martin Repurposing Shuttle Cargo Module to Use for Lunar Orbiting Base [soylentnews.org] (could they be joined together?)
ESA Expert Envisions "Moon Village" by 2030-2050 [soylentnews.org]
NASA and Roscosmos Sign Joint Statement on the Development of a Lunar Space Station [soylentnews.org]
Bigelow Expandable Activity Module to Continue Stay at the International Space Station [soylentnews.org]