Sundancer

Sundancer

Sundancer is the proposed third prototype space habitat to be launched by Bigelow Aerospace and the first human-rated inflatable module based on the Transhab design by NASA. It will be used to test and confirm systems used in the company's commercial space station efforts, and if successful, will form the first piece of the proposed commercial space station.

Spacecraft history and future

Upon its original announcement, Sundancer was intended to be the fourth module orbited by Bigelow Aerospace. In August 2007, however, it was announced that due to rising space launch costs and the level of success in previous modules, the Galaxy spacecraft would not be launched and Sundancer's program would be accelerated. The life support and other advanced systems intended for launch on Galaxy, and potentially the spacecraft itself, would still be built and used for ground testing.

Currently scheduled for a launch by 2009 or 2010 aboard a yet-to-be-determined launch vehicle, Sundancer will spend its first six to nine months on-orbit in a checkout configuration to test systems, followed by manned shakedown missions when transport vehicles become available. If these manned missions prove successful, Bigelow plans to use Sundancer as the starting point of the first commercial space complex. The company intends to launch a combined propulsion bus and central node to the module in 2011, followed by a full-size BA 330 module in both 2012 and 2013. The two BA 330 modules would dock with the central node, which previously connected to Sundancer, and the first of several planned commercial space stations would begin operation. A one-week trip to the complex is currently estimated to be priced at US$7.9 million.

Systems and configuration

Sundancer will be equipped with full life support systems, attitude control, orbital maneuvering systems, and will be capable of reboost and deorbit burns. Like the Genesis pathfinders, Sundancer will launch with its outer surface compacted around its central core, with air expanding it to its full size after entering orbit. After expansion, the module will measure 8.7 m (28.5 ft) in length and 6.3 m (20.6 ft) in diameter, with 180 cubic meters (greater than 6,000 cubic feet) of interior volume. Unlike previous Bigelow craft, it will feature three observation windows.

Sundancer's propulsion system will initially be used to boost the module into a high orbit for long duration testing and will later lower it back into an orbit reachable by manned spacecraft. It will be equipped with a Soyuz-type docking system on one end of the craft and a NASA-developed Low Impact Docking System on the other.

Bigelow has a contract with Aerojet for the Sundancer aft propulsion system, which will provide a three-axis attitude control system and propulsion for a de-orbit maneuver. Andrews Space will provide Aerojet with electronic controllers for the aft propulsion system.

Bigelow Aerospace is also considering an option to include lights on the exterior of the spacecraft, potentially visible from Earth, which would be a furtherance of the projection system currently flying aboard Genesis II. Robert Bigelow noted in an interview that "if you have some blue and green and amber-colored lighting going on, you would have something that really has a lot of blink to it."

Launch vehicle

Due to the added size and mass of Sundancer over previous modules, the craft will require a medium launch vehicle to take it into orbit. Bigelow is considering several vehicles, including the SpaceX Falcon 9, the Ukrainian Yuzhnoye Zenit, and the Lockheed Martin Atlas V. Bigelow has also entered discussion with Lockheed regarding the possible use of the Atlas V as a launch vehicle for manned space capsules, which would be required to deliver crew, tourists and material to the new habitat. The problem being faced, however, is that no commercial spacecraft yet exists to deliver humans into orbit, effectively leaving Sundancer as "a destination waiting for a means to get there."

References

See also

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