Quick access to space, high-speed data feed and a unique vantage point are the selling points of a new commercial venture on the International Space Station. Its name is Bartolomeo, and its versatile design allows for many mission types at competitive prices from next year.
The Space Station has been growing in size during the past 20 years, and so have the number of platforms dedicated to science in orbit. However, researchers and engineers are finding it harder to acquire slots for their experiments.
A decade after its launch, Europe’s Columbus laboratory makes room on the outside to a new platform that offers an affordable, quick and easy access to space.
Bartolomeo aims to attract new European users to the Station, including a community of start-ups and space entrepreneurs. As companies piggyback off existing Station resources to reduce cost, new commercial opportunities will arise.
Earth observation and telecommunications, exobiology and space weather research are areas of great demand that will benefit.
The Bartolomeo All-in-one Mission Service will provide end-to-end access for external payloads on the Station. It provides unobstructed view of Earth, direct control of the experiments from the ground and the possibility of retrieving samples.
Today, ESA and Airbus Defence and Space signed a commercial partnership that will make Bartolomeo a reality next year. While the European company funds the development and promotes commercialisation, ESA will support the launch, installation and operations.
This is the first time that a European commercial partnership is offering the opportunity to carry out science and demonstrate technology outside the Station.
Out of the box
The Bartolomeo platform, named after the younger brother of Christopher Columbus, will be mounted on the forward side of Columbus, 400 km above Earth. Users will enjoy a data downlink capacity of 10 Gbit/s – enough to download a high-definition movie within 30 seconds.
The formula for payload size is flexible. Users can squeeze in as little as 5 kg by sharing the ride with other experiments, or have an entire slot of up to 450 kg at their disposal.
Bartolomeo offers 11 slots, and the waiting time from the moment a contract is signed and the ‘go for flight’ is one to two years – much shorter than the standard timeframe for experiments. The rental agreement in space is for a minimum of one year.
Bartolomeo is set for launch in 2019 on a SpaceX Dragon cargo ferry.