The rise of commercial spaceflight companies such as SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace sparked the age of space tourism as the ultra-wealthy became able to buy a ticket for a rocket ride into space. Of course, there is a huge limit on tourism if there isn’t a place to stay in one’s intended destination, but that’s about to change in space. Bigelow has announced plans to build two space stations that will float in low-Earth orbit. The company has big plans for these space stations and ideas about who might pay to use them. Essentially, the stations will be like orbiting space hotels where astronauts and possibly even tourists might stay one day.
In a press release this week, Bigelow Aerospace announced that it has created a spin-off venture called Bigelow Space Operations, which will operate and manage two space stations that will serve as hotels. The company expects to launch both hotels in 2021, and it’s beginning to work toward building them this year. Bigelow describes the two space stations as “the largest, most complex structures ever known as stations for human use in space.”
The two stations are currently being referred to as B330-1 and B330-2, and they aren’t the only two that Bigelow Space Operations plans to build. The two space stations are inflatable and will provide shelter for up to six people in low-Earth orbit with about 12,000 cubic feet of living space.
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The company told The Verge that it hopes to market its space stations to the world’s space agencies, such as NASA, and scientific research businesses and organizations. BSO intends to sell or lease the space for less than what it costs to state in the International Space Station, essentially providing space hotels for any teams wanting to live and work in space. The company also believes that other nations might be interested in starting their own space programs, buying time to orbit Earth in its space stations.
Bigelow Aerospace also plans to build one space station that it will launch on a massive rocket carrying more than 2.4 times the amount of pressurized volume as the current International Space Station. The company plans to establish a manufacturing facility for its space stations in Alabama, Florida or somewhere else.
The press release issued by Bigelow this week was a bit light on details, but the company did provide more information to The Verge. Before the company moves forward with its plan, it will begin conducting research to build a picture of the commercial space market President Robert Bigelow told the tech site that they’re going to spend “millions of dollars” meeting with representatives from companies and space agencies to get a more solid picture of what types of customers might want to book some time in its space hotels.
He also noted that they have been open about their intent to turn a profit on space tourism. Further, if they can’t find anyone to stay at their space hotels, then they might decide not to launch them. Bigelow explained that China is working on its own space station for launch sometime in the 2020s and that the country is “offering very attractive terms and conditions and features” which will make it difficult to compete with it.
Bigelow has already made a name for itself in the space business. It builds inflatable space habitats that launch as tightly packed modules. Once safely delivered into orbit, the modules inflate, providing room for astronauts to live and work in. One of the company’s modules, called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), has been attached to the ISS for more than a year. NASA even extended its contract for the BEAM last year, which provides proof of concept for what the commercial space company aims to do.