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article imageBigelow Aerospace announces plan to launch its own space stations

By Karen Graham     Feb 21, 2018 in Technology
On Tuesday, hotel billionaire Robert Bigelow announced the launch of Bigelow Space Operations (BSO). The new company will operate inflatable space stations called B330s, which are being developed by Bigelow Aerospace, also founded by Robert Bigelow.
Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace builds modules that launch in a compressed configuration and then inflate upon reaching their destination.
Actually, Digital Journal reported in 2016 that Bigelow Aerospace and Axiom Space LLC were planning to launch personal habitat modules, capable of hosting space tourists, into orbit by the year 2020, opening up a new era in space travel and space tourism.
Bigelow Aerospace's "Bigelow Expandable Activity Module," or BEAM, uses key innovations in lightweight and compact materials, bypassing the use of rigid aluminum-walled structures. On April 8, 2016, a SpaceX CRS-8 launch took the Dragon cargo vessel to the International Space Station where it docked on April 10.
A concept design for a module from Bigelow Aerospace.
A concept design for a module from Bigelow Aerospace.
Ars Technica
On April 16, British astronaut Tim Peake extracted BEAM from Dragon's trunk using Canadarm2 and installed it on the aft port of the ISS's Tranquility node. The BEAM was to be monitored for two years, and that time period is just about up this year.
But even in 2016, Bigelow was planning on something bigger, much bigger. At the time, Bigelow said his company was building two B330s. The B330s would offer 11,650 cubic feet of internal volume, versus the internal pressurized volume of 32,333 cubic feet for the entire 440-ton, $100 billion ISS.
Bigelow has great ambitions for BSO
The hotel mogul has grand ambitions to use BSO to commercialize space — and outdo NASA with a "monster" space station. To move forward with his plan, Bigelow said his two 55-foot-long inflatable modules, called B330-1 and B330-2, will be launched in 2021. They will link together to form a private space station.
An entire space station.... in a single launch. B330.
An entire space station.... in a single launch. B330.
Bigelow Aerospace
Bigelow's announcement comes soon after the Trump administration proposed a NASA budget that would cease funding the Space Station after the year 2024. And NASA has already announced they would allow private companies to play a leading role in maintaining the massive, aging Space Station after 2024.
BSO plans to sell space aboard the new space station to countries needing an orbital space laboratory, as well as multi-million-dollar reservations to tourists seeking the trip (and hotel stay) of a lifetime.
Bigelow says his biggest worry is about whether there will be demand for such low-Earth orbit technology, reports Mashable. Without a doubt, the inflatable space station will be less costly, but will enough countries be interested in participating in using the station?
Bigelow said he's now hiring for and funding a multi-million dollar study to determine "what the hell a commercial market really looks like," in the coming years. In Bigelow's view, no one really knows.
"The time is now to quantify in detail the global, national and corporate commercial space market for orbiting stations. This subject has had ambiguity for many years," a Bigelow statement reads.
The B330 module can hold six people and once inflated, its thick white shields, made of impact-absorbing materials, would protect against space debris and radiation.
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver is given a tour of the Bigelow Aerospace facilities by the com...
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver is given a tour of the Bigelow Aerospace facilities by the company's President Robert Bigelow on Friday, Feb. 4, 2011, in Las Vegas.
NASA/Bill Ingalls
The units are "so diverse and so large," Bigelow's release said, "that they can accommodate virtually unlimited use almost anywhere." Depending on the prices that SpaceX and other companies charge for flights, the per-passenger cost could be in the "low seven figures" though most likely in the "low eight figures," Bigelow said.
Should the B330s prove to be a successful venture, Bigelow is looking to go even bigger - proposing to launch an inflatable space station more than 2.4 times the volume of the entire ISS, which took decades to build.
"We call it the Olympus," Bigelow said. "It will weigh about 75-80 metric tonnes on launch. It will be a monster spacecraft by any current standards, and we hope that's something we can be seriously working on over the course of about eight to 10 years."
More about Bigalow aerospace, Axiom Space LLC, inflatable space stations, Iss, Spacex