The Chinese Xinhua news agency reports that the nation will launch its first space station between Sept. 27 and 30.
The 8.5-metric ton Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace 1) is about half the size of the early Soviet Salyut space stations that were launched in the 1970s. It will serve as docking target for three Shenzhou spacecraft. The first will dock unmanned to demonstrate that capability. If that mission is successful, two crews will dock at the station and conduct experiments.
The launch of the station was delayed from early September because of a failure of a Long March rocket. Additional checks were required.
Robert Bigelow was the keynote speaker at the NSS Governors’ Dinner and Gala in Huntsville last night. Standing beneath a Saturn V in a city that forms the heart of opposition to NASA’s commercial approach to human spaceflight, the founder of Bigelow Aerospace laid out his ambitious plans to launch private space stations into orbit by the middle of the decade. The details are laid out in the photos below.
NSS PR — Robert Bigelow, Founder and President of Bigelow Aerospace, <http://www.bigelowaerospace.com> will be the Honored Keynote Speaker at the ISDC Governors’ Dinner and Gala to be held in the Davidson Center at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama on May 20. Mr. Bigelow founded Bigelow Aerospace, which is noted for developing and launching the first inflatable space habitats. At the Gala, Mr. Bigelow will also receive the National Space Society’s Space Pioneer Award for Space Development for his efforts to advance the technology of space habitats and for the significance they may play in the development of space tourism, industry and exploration.
Bigelow Aerospace took over the Transhab space habitat development program after NASA scrapped it, and effectively reinvented it – developing and successfully launching its prototypes, Genesis I and II, in 2006 and 2007. Limitations on payload volume during launch are one of the major constraints of the NewSpace industry, and the Company’s inflatable concept solves that problem for most in-space habitat applications. The lower launch volume and mass per volume of the inflatables, combined with now imminent launch cost reductions, should soon allow delivery of paying passengers to safe and functional orbiting destinations, such as the Bigelow station planned for operation by 2015.
The seven-state United Arab Emirates is quickly becoming the center of the Middle East’s space effort, with agreements with Virgin Galactic for a suborbital spaceport and Bigelow Aerospace to develop an orbital spaceflight program. In the process, it is riding the crest of a new commercial wave in how human spaceflight will be conducted.
Manx Radio has a brief interview with Leroy Chaio of Excalibur Almaz in which he describes the Isle of Man-based company’s plans for two space stations that it recently brought over from Russia:
“It’s hard to say at this point, because currently our business plan does not include using the space stations. But, basically to purchase these assets so that if in the future it does make sense to refurbish and launch the space stations, then we have these assets that can be used. So, at the moment, we don’t have a firm time table of how long these assets will be stored here and what the plan will be with them in the future.”
Sounds like they don’t have any clients or funding at the moment. It will be interesting to see how this space station project — and others — progress as NASA gets going on its commercial space transport program. The prospect for viable commercial space station and LEO transport markets would help several of the companies with fund raising and marketing.
The Houston Chronicle has a puzzling interview with George Abbey, the former NASA Johnson Space Center director who is now a senior fellow in space policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Abbey calls SpaceX’s test flight last week “a great achievement,” advocates keeping the space shuttle flying until a replacement is fielded, and demonstrates a narrow perspective on the market for commercial human spaceflight:
Q: The goal is to free up NASA funds for deep space exploration, but given the limitations, how likely are these public-private partnerships to actually save money?
A: Right now, the only customer is the government, which would be supporting these missions to the space station. If you look at the commercial market, it’s going to be very difficult getting the companies where they can get a return based on their own investment. The only customer now, and in the immediate future, is the government.
Abbey admits that the orbital space tourism market could create demand, but he’s skeptical about it. As for demand, he’s right that government is the only customer “in the immediate future.”
However, what neither Abbey nor writer Jeannie Kever mentions are the multiple private space stations (Bigelow, Excalibur Almaz, Galactic Suites, etc.) which would benefit from reliable, affordable and redundant crew and cargo transports. These facilities are not just targeted at the space tourism market. NASA is taking on some risk in investing in commercial crew, but the potential payoffs if these projects succeed are enormous.
Bigelow still thinks big For over a decade Bigelow Aerospace has been quietly working on inflatable habitat modules for use on commercial space stations. Jeff Foust reports on how, as the companyâ€™s profile grows, so do its ambitions.
Secrets of the red planet The movie Capricorn One hardly put NASA in a good light, yet the movie uses props like a lunar lander replica. Dwayne Day examines how the movie producers got access to that hardware.
Review: Trailblazing Mars Mars is now written into law as the the long-term objective for NASAâ€™s human spaceflight plans, but how will the agency manage to get there? Jeff Foust reviews a book that studies the issues of sending humans to the Red Planet.
Deep ops On the first KH-9 reconnaissance satellite mission, one of its reentry capsules missed its midair capture and plummeted to the bottom of the Pacific. Dwayne Day recounts the effort by the US Navy to recover that capsule.
Bigelow Aerospace LLC, LasVegas, NV, has begun the process of human rating its Environmental Control and Life Support System. The contained volume humans in the loop testing is in preparation for the 2015 launch of Sundancer – an expandable module approximately 27ft long, 22ft in diameter, with an internal volume of 180m3 and supports a crew of three. When completed, the process will have demonstrated the life support system’s ability to safely support a crew of three persons for extended durations.
Commercial space station to be built jointly by RSC-Energia and Orbital Technologies will be used to conduct scientific experiments, Head of Roscosmos Human Spaceflight Directorate Alexey Krasnov told news media.
China will use its heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket to launch space stations, lunar rovers and large satellites beginning in 2014, according to a story on the China View website.
The rocket will be built in the Binhai New Area of Tianjin, a port city 120 km (75 miles) southeast of Beijing. It will then be transported by sea to a new launch complex that China is building on the island of Hainan. China expects to be able to construct a dozen Long March 5 rockets per year.
In a separate story, Chinese officials said they expect to launch a recoverable lunar rover in 2017 that would return soil samples to Earth. They view the rover as an essential stepping stone to human missions to the lunar surface.
Hobby Space has an update on Bigelow Aerospace’s progress. The Las Vegas company is in the process of moving the Genesis II module and its support team to Russia. Meanwhile, the launch of the space station prototype could be delayed by problems with the Dnepr rocket.