Bigelow Aerospace announced a few days ago a new spin-off company that will focus on the commercialization and exploitation of its low-orbit inflatable habitats. Two hotels could open in space in 2021.
Since its founding in 1999, Bigelow Aerospace has focused on the construction of inflatable space modules to evolve into low Earth orbit. Since 2016, the ISS has hosted the BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module), an ultra-resistant inflatable module. Until 2018, the astronauts aboard the station will have the difficult task of testing its resistance to the space environment, the company aiming for an inflatable habitat in lunar orbit by 2022. Called Bigelow B330, this new module could then serve as habitat, but also warehouse to facilitate the links between the Earth and the Moon. But it seems that Bigelow Aerospace wants to “diversify” its intentions a bit.
The company, based in Las Vegas, has launched Bigelow Space Operations (BSO), a spin-off company dedicated to the commercialization and exploitation of these inflatable space habitats, which could be used as space hotels. According to a press release, the company’s first objective will be to quantify the market for stations in orbit; two inflatable habitats are already planned for 2021. The B330-1 and B330-2 will be designed to evolve in low Earth orbit, and each will be able to accommodate up to six people within its 330 cubic meters of expandable space (for comparison, the International Space Station has an internal volume of 915 cubic meters).
In terms of measurements, the Bigelow B330 will be much larger than their predecessor currently tested in the ISS: 14 meters long and 6.7 meters wide, for a weight of around 20 tonnes (1.3 tonnes for the BEAM, 3,2 meters long and 4 meters wide). To send them into space, Bigelow plans to rely on a Vulcan rocket, a new heavy lift vehicle developed by United Launch Alliance.