By 2022, a large space capsule could be orbiting around the moon, helping astronauts plan for future space exploration missions.
That’s if a couple of aerospace companies can pull off their ambitious plans.
Bigelow Aerospace and the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Lockheed Martin (LMT) and The Boeing Company (BA), said this week that they plan to send a lunar depot, essentially a miniature space station, to the moon’s orbit by 2022.
The goal? Help NASA with upcoming space missions.
The proposed mission would be a significant test for Bigelow Aerospace’s yet-to-be deployed B330 Habitat, which can house six people, provide facilities for scientific testing, and serve as a training ground for astronauts, according to the company.
For the mission, the B330 Habitat will be lifted to space from one of ULA’s Vulcan 562 rocket, where it will remain in low Earth orbit. From there, Bigelow Aerospace plans to test the space module to see if it is “working properly,” according to the announcement. Once ready, the mini space station will be carried to low lunar orbit with the help of two more Vulcan rockets, known as the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage rockets.
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“Our lunar depot plan is a strong complement to other plans intended to eventually put people on Mars,” said Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace, in a statement. “It will provide NASA and America with an exciting and financially practical success opportunity that can be accomplished in the short term.”
He added: “This lunar depot could be deployed easily by 2022 to support the nation’s re-energized plans for returning to the Moon.”
The company’s proposed space habitat comes after U.S. vice president Mike Pence said in early October that the Trump Administration wants to send U.S. astronauts to the moon.
Pence, who didn’t give a specific date of any moon landing, believes that astronauts need to explore the moon before they eventually walk on Mars. His views conflict with former president Barack Obama, who once said of any proposed moon missions: “We’ve been there before.”