Bigelow Aerospace forms company to sell space on inflatable space stations

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The first task for the new company, Bigelow said in a conference call with reporters, is to perform a detailed market study for the company's B330 expandable modules, and future larger variants, to determine what demand exists and whether it's worthwhile to proceed with the launch of the first two B330 modules in the early 2020s.

The habitats-inflatable spacecraft originally designed by NASA that can protect a crew of six amidst the hazards of vacuum and micrometeroids-are built by Bigelow Aerospace, a company its eponymous founder financed from successful hotel investments in Las Vegas.

BSO will act as the marketing, customer service and - when the company's space stations are launched - operations center for Bigelow's products.

The inflatable module is named B330, because it's made by Bigelow, and it has 330 cubic meters of space inside. And launch companies, including SpaceX have made fantastic progress, encouraging enough that Bigelow thinks there could be a huge market for management in space.

"We intend to spend millions of dollars this year in drilling down, hopefully, to a conclusion one way or the other as to what the global market is going to look like", he said. After that, Bigelow has bigger plans to create a single station with 2.4 times the entire pressurized volume of the ISS, the company announced today.

Twelve years ago, he had tentative agreements in hand with eight nations who wanted to use Bigelow habitats for their own space programs. Such a huge station will need to be constructed in an entirely new manufacturing facility that Bigelow plans to build - though the company hasn't decided on a location yet.

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Eventually, once stations are operational, Bigelow says he expects BSO's staff to expand to "between 400 and 500".

And if there's enough demand from various nations or companies to purchase Bigelow's expandable capsules - which are marketed as being lighter, substantially less bulky, and cheaper to launch than traditional metal capsules - Bigelow has even grander plans: A single new space station, with almost two and a half times the volume of the current ISS, that would be launched on a single rocket and then unfurled in space.

The company intends to target numerous up and coming forces in the important commercial space race.

Today, he's facing what he calls a "different playing field".

But Bigelow said he and other potential space station operators are facing competition from two main sources. In Bigelow's view, no one really knows. He said the modules are on schedule to be ready for launch by the end of 2021, with four more modules "in the queue". However, the global economic crisis in 2008 soured that interest as those countries, he said, "went from fantasizing about ambitious space programs for human beings in LEO to worrying about whether or not they're going to default tomorrow on their national debt".

Bigelow called upon the Trump administration to step in and find a solution to the problem, although he did not advocate for any specific approach.

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For more information on Bigelow Space Operations visit www.bigelowspaceops.com.

"We don't look at tourism as a particularly deep market", he said. If that comes to pass, BSO would be interested - as would other companies, such as Axiom Space and NanoRacks. And in October of previous year, the company announced that it's working with United Launch Alliance to get a B330 into orbit around the moon by 2022.

United Launch Alliance isn't the only potential launch partner.

The B330s offer "on orbit space for science and research at much a lower price than ISS", Blair Bigelow, the company's vice president of corporate strategy, wrote in an email to The Verge. He spoke dismissively about the idea of having a space station "whimsically deployed on a wing and a prayer". "We would pause after developing the two B-330s, they would be sitting on the ground waiting for deployment, if in fact the business weren't there".

"Bigelow Space Operations has permanent positions and consultant positions open for experienced astronauts", the company states.

Bigelow said that interest has picked up in recent years, including from some of those original relationships with other nations. Presently, the company has about a half a dozen employees, with another 30 to 40 hires expected to be added this year.

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