Bigelow Aerospace Wants Customers for Their Inflatable Space Station Modules
Who doesn't love camping? The joy of sleeping in a tent, cooking under the stars, and breathing the cool, fresh air of the great outdoors. But of course, if you plan on camping in orbit around the Earth, it's probably not a good idea to stick your head out of your inflatable habitat to try lighting a campfire.
Nevertheless, Bigelow Aerospace is looking for potential customers for their inflatable space station habitats. These are essentially space tents: instead of a rigid, firm structure for astronauts to live in, the modules are thinner and lighter, unfolding once in orbit so that they can open up to give astronauts more space.
A new branch of the company, named Bigelow Space Operations (BSO), has been spun off to focus on this endeavor. BSO is fairly confident in this technology, which is based on a prototype attached to the International Space Station since 2016. The company's long term goal is to get a few of these into operation as part of a mission to Mars, but in the meantime, the plan is to see whether various space agencies and companies are interested in purchasing a version of the technology for use in orbit around Earth.
The inflatable module is named B330, because it's made by Bigelow, and it has 330 cubic meters of space inside. The goal is to launch two B330 units into space in 2021, aboard Atlas V rockets, with another B330 launching soon after to stay in orbit around the moon. If all of this goes well, the next move will be to build larger commercial space station that will remain in orbit around Earth.
The company intends to target many of the up and coming forces in the important commercial space race. NASA would naturally be an ideal customer for BSO to work with, but the company is also looking at other national space agencies around the world, as well as, crucially, private companies that are interested in getting in on the outer space gold rush.
With an increased interest in making money from space missions, many well-established businesses will be looking for a third party to remove much of the hassle of establishing a presence in space. It's this kind of service that BSO is looking to provide, allowing customers to simply pick up an off-the-shelf inflatable space station for use in a variety of types of missions.
It remains to be seen whether this is a service that customers will flock to, and Bigelow Aerospace has already stated publicly that if this business model doesn't rapidly draw attention from potential clients, the company will rethink their strategy and might cancel the B330 launch altogether.
Even so, this feels like a very important step forward for space travel in general, as actually establishing a permanent presence beyond the Earth will potentially become a lot quicker and easier for those with enough money to fund this kind of inflatable miniature colony.
This is just what outer space was missing: the orbital equivalent of Ikea furniture. Cheap, easy to assemble, and available to anybody who wants it and who's happy not to have some interior decor with a little more personality and originality.