|Hard to picture 7 crew here. Note sleeping alcove with porthole for scale.|
I got a press release yesterday from a new venture to build what’s being billed as the first commercial space station. What got my attention is who proposes to build the thing: RSC Energia, the Russian company responsible for the most reliable spaceships in the world, the Soyuz, as well as the dozen or so previous Russian space stations.
The other partner in the venture is an outfit called Orbital Technologies, based in Moscow (no apparent connection between the Wisconsin-based Orbital Technologies and the Virginia company Orbital Sciences).
A spokesperson elaborated to me that construction on Commercial Space Station, or CSS, is due to start in 2012 and it will launch in 2015 or 2016. Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace has already started building its Sundancer commercial space station, and plans to launch in 2014, a year ahead of CSS.
It’s not clear whether financing is in place for the new venture. I suspect not, given the late start date, although the press release states that that customers have already been found.
“Orbital Technologies has several customers already under contract from different segments of industry and the scientific community, representing such areas as medical research and protein crystallization, materials processing, and the geographic imaging and remote sensing industry.”
And, says Orbital CEO Sergey Kostenko, “We also have proposals for the implementation of media projects. And, of course, some parties are interested in short duration stays on the station for enjoyment.”
CSS will be a traditional aluminum can design, just like all space stations that have come before. The advantage is that development should be pretty straightforward, the challenges well understood. The down side is that it will be small and cramped, just 19 cubic meters supposedly serving up to seven crew members.
Bigelow’s planned first habitat, in contrast, will enclose a whopping 180 square meters for up to six astronauts, made possible by its never-before-tried inflatable technology, which allows it to launch in a package of much smaller volume.