This week has been pretty big for private space, (including astronomy / exoplanetology and development of space-related commercial products – more to come in future posts).
In something of a surprise announcement, Russian NewSpace startup Orbital Technologies announced a volley of corporate agreements and a proposed private, commercial space station to launch by the year 2015.
With what they call (unassumingly) the “Commercial Space Station,” or CSS, Orbital Technologies hopes to challenge Vegas space-habitat manufacturer Bigelow Aerospace‘s current monopoly on the private-space-station market.
The proposed Russian CSS will rely on proven Russian Soyuz spacecraft for crew transport and resupply (via Soyuz “Progress” cargo modification.) In doing so, Orbital Technologies has (at least in concept) been able to leverage the most reliable spacecraft on Earth to date as part of their business model. While there has been no evidence of “bent metal” so far, (unlike Bigelow, who already has two test modules in orbit,) the seriousness of the commercial relationships this company demonstrates out-of-the-gate makes them a definite contender.
In offering a space station along with Soyuz transportation to get there, Orbital Technologies is perhaps the only firm in direct competition with Bigelow Aerospace, which has partnered up with U.S. aerospace giant Boeing to supply CST-100 space transports to Bigelow’s inflatable space habitats.
Not-so-coincidentally, Bigelow Aerospace also has a target launch date of 2015 for their first manned space station.
The architecture of the CSS appears to be a single module, and options for expansion are not discussed in Orbital Technology’s literature, as opposed to the Bigelow Aerospace station, which is intentionally modular and expandable.
Power on the CSS is also an apparent issue, with no visible solar panels in the renderings supplied to-date — drawing power from a docked Soyuz spacecraft is an option. (If true, this differs significantly from the Bigelow architecture, which includes onboard power for each module via solar arrays.)
Competition in a very real sense can only be a positive force for the development of destinations in space. So, let the NewSpace Race begin.
It’s about time.