Robert Bigelow, who made his billions from the hotel chain Budget Suites of America, has officially launched a new spaceflight company called Bigelow Space Operations (BSO).
According to Mexico News Network Bigelow, age 72, owns Bigelow Aerospace, which he founded in 1999. That company built an inflatable room, called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), for NASA to attach to the International Space Station. BEAM launched into orbit and was fully deployed in 2016.
Now the hotel mogul has grand ambitions to use Bigelow Space Operations to commercialize space — and outdo NASA with a “monster” space station.
In 2021, BSO plans to launch two 55-foot-long inflatable modules, called B330-1 and B330-2, that link together to form a private space station. The new company plans to sell time aboard to countries in need of orbital laboratory space, as well as multi-million-dollar reservations to tourists seeking the trip (and hotel stay) of a lifetime.
“These single structures that house humans on a permanent basis will be the largest, most complex structures ever known as stations for human use in space,” the company said in a press release.
Meanwhile, the cost of access to space is getting cheaper with the advent of new rocket systems. Lead among them is SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, which is now the most powerful operational launcher in the world following its successful test. (The price of a launch on that system undercuts the competition four-fold.)
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is also gearing up to test-launch his own reusable New Glenn rockets in a couple of years, and the United Launch Alliance (a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin) is working toward a reusable Vulcan rocket in the 2020s.
Bigelow’s B330 space station modules can hold about six people. They would launch in a folded-up state, then be inflated with breathable air once deployed into orbit. Their thick white shields, made of impact-absorbing materials, would protect against space debris and radiation.
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. (NASA currently pays Russia about $81 million per round-trip to the ISS for its astronauts.)
Bigelow said he foresees two major obstacles for his plans to establish private space hotels and laboratories: China and NASA.
China is a threat because many of the 17 partners behind the $150-billion International Space Station are being “systematically courted” to invest in a new orbital laboratory that China may launch as soon as 2022.
NASA is an issue because, under President Donald Trump’s direction, the agency plans to pull out of the ISS in 2025, then invest roughly $3 to $4 billion per year in a deep-space gateway to help astronauts get to the moon and Mars.
“It’s going to be a political episode,” Bigelow said. “It needs to have a solution that needs to be worked on now in conjunction with the commercial space station players. This is a very serious problem.”
The core issue is that NASA has helped fund a nascent industry of private space companies, including SpaceX and Bigelow. It also provided a semi-permanent destination in orbit for the companies to work with: the ISS. If NASA abandons the ISS for deep-space missions without figuring out new roles for the companies it has invested in, many could be left in the lurch.
Source Mexico News Network