Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Next up... Sundancer

This is another article that's been sitting in my edit queue for months. I'm trying to push a few of these ancient articles out of the queue, so I apologize if they are no longer as relevant as when I started working on them. Anyway, I'll leave the original dates on the posts for the record.

Robert Bigelow has recently announced that he and his team at Bigelow Aerospace have decided to skip the launching of the Galaxy class testbed module in favor of expediting the development and deployment of the Sundancer class module. Many reports have expressed surprise at this sudden change in plans; however, Mr. Bigelow had previously given some hints that they would be willing to forgo the launch of the Galaxy/Guardian class module. From an interview with Alan Boyle in September of last year:
For now, Bigelow has back-burnered the idea of sending up an intermediate-sized test vehicle that would not be human-rated - the type of inflatable known as the Galaxy or Guardian class.

Of course, this was contingent upon the successful launch, deployment, and operation of Genesis II, which has come to pass. From that same article:
If everything goes smoothly, "we have decided to try to cut some of the time" from the initially planned development cycle and go directly from Genesis 2 to a "human-occupiable" module, he said.

The most recent announcement cites rising launch costs as an additional factor in their decision. In the end, the expense of preparing and launching the Galaxy module would be far greater than the return they could expect from the vehicle, especially when considering that many of the Galaxy's systems could be validated just as well on the ground. It seems then, that the primary drawback to not orbiting the Galaxy module is that they will not gain any experience operating its more complex systems from the ground under actual on-orbit conditions. But with two modules already operating successfully on-orbit, perhaps they thought at least some of this experience could be gained from their existing assets.

So, there does not seem to be so much new in the recent announcement. Even the expected launch date for the Sundancer module has not changed substantially. From last September's article:
Bigelow told me that the latest timetable calls for the Sundancer to go into orbit in late 2009 or early 2010.

This launch was slated to be aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. There is no word yet as to whether or not these plans have been changed. I think it's probably safe to say, for the moment that the Sundancer will probably be one of the first payloads to fly on the Falcon 9 when it becomes available.

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