WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — An expandable spacecraft orbiting the moon by late 2022 will provide a commercial depot for lunar exploration and eventual flights to Mars, according to a press release announcing a joint venture between Bigelow Aerospace private company and United Launch Alliance, which provides spacecraft launch services to the US government.
"This commercial lunar depot would provide anchorage for significant lunar business development in addition to offering NASA and other governments the Moon as a new exciting location to conduct long-term exploration and astronaut training," the release stated.
As a working space station for humans, Bigelow’s B330 expandable module will also complement bigger plans by NASA to eventually put people on Mars, the release explained.
Bigelow Aerospace will then outfit the habitat and demonstrate it is working properly, as ULA sends two fuel shipments and a separate spacecraft to rendezvous with the B330 and propel the capsule to the moon, according to the release.
Bigelow Aerospace company specialises in construction of inflatable habitable space modules. The concept was developed by NASA but dropped after some time and the private company from Nevada managed to purchase the rights to the patents. One of the modules developed by the company, the BEAM, is currently attached to the International Space Station. The module was developed under $17.8 million NASA contract to test the technology and, despite having trouble at first, the module was expanded successfully.