Bigelow Aerospace is one of several commercial ventures entering the human spaceflight arena in the early 2000s. Their signature concept, represented by this model, is inflatable modules that can be assembled to form a space station. These compact, lighter-weight-than-rigid-metal modules can be launched without a crew and automatically expanded to full size, with onboard air, in orbit, to serve as living quarters and space laboratories. Two test modules were placed in orbit and successfully inflated in 2006 and 2007. As the commercial launch vehicle and crew transport vehicle entrepreneurial efforts mature, Bigelow plans to develop a multi-module space station complex as depicted in this model provided to the Museum in 2009.
From Bigelow Aerospace website:
Aerojet Supplies Aft Propulsion for Sundancer
May 28, 2008 - 10:00 a.m. PDT
Las Vegas, NV - Continuing development of the first commercial space habitat capable of supporting a human crew, Bigelow Aerospace, LLC has reached agreement with aerospace leader Aerojet to supply the propulsion system for the aft end of Sundancer.
Under the $23 million deal completed at the beginning of May, Aerojet, a GenCorp Inc. (NYSE: GY) company, will provide the system that will handle rendezvous and docking, as well as the end-of-life controlled deorbit of the module. The aft propulsion will also compliment the forward-end propulsion system provided by Orion Propulsion, Inc. towards attitude control and momentum-wheel desaturation.
"We're looking forward to working closely with Aerojet on this exciting program," says Bigelow Aerospace Program Manager Eric Haakonstad. "Sundancer is a great opportunity for fast paced private industry to team with a world leader in space propulsion to further Bigelow Aerospace's goal of developing sustainable commercial space stations."
The Aerojet system for Sundancer is of a monopropellant hydrazine design and consists of hardware that has been well-proven on numerous missions. A similar system was used on May 25 to help NASA's Phoenix probe become the first spacecraft in more than 30 years to successfully land on Mars using rockets alone.
Sundancer, planned for launch early in the next decade, will be the first module built by Bigelow Aerospace capable of manned operation. It would support a crew of up to three for varying mission durations and eventually provide the backbone for the first commercial space station. It follows the successful and continuing missions of the unmanned Genesis I and Genesis II, which continue to test and verify systems for future commercial space habitats.