Robert Bigelow is a trim 60 years old with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair and a matching mustache. He shepherds visitors through his 50-acre, three-building, 56-employee R&D facility, Bigelow Aerospace, on the outskirts of Las Vegas with the quiet confidence of a man who knows exactly what he is doing.
The Five-Billion-Star Hotel Popular Science
The test flight of a potentially revolutionary transportation system for future space missions has been delayed several months for more preflight testing, project officials announced Tuesday. Originally planned for the second half of December, the flight of the Demonstrator-3 inflatable space vehicle will now occur sometime in the spring of 2005. Sometimes referred to as a
NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate is on the lookout for new concepts for its Vision for Space Exploration — the White House-backed Moon, Mars and beyond agenda. And on November 16th, NASA selected a concept from Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation for inflatable thin-film ballutes for return from the Moon. Not only Moon-to-Earth traffic could benefit by using the ballute/aerocapture technique. So too could missions to Mars, as well as future probes to Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, and other distant destinations.
The U.S. Government has given payload approval to Bigelow Aerospace permitting the entrepreneurial firm to launch its inflatable space module technology. Bigelow Aerospace of North Las Vegas, Nevada has blueprinted a step-by-step program to explore the use of inflatable Earth orbiting modules. Those modules would not only support made-in-microgravity product development, but serve as the technology foundation for eventual space tourist housing and use of similar structures on the Moon and Mars.
While a team of aerospace engineers takes aim this week on the $10 million Ansari X Prize competition for privately developed suborbital spaceflight, a Nevada millionaire is planning an even loftier contest. Robert Bigelow, chief of Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace, is apparently setting higher goals for private spaceflight endeavors with America’s Space Prize, a $50 million race to build an orbital vehicle capable of carrying up to seven astronauts to an orbital outpost by the end of the decade, according to Aviation Week and Space Technology. Bigelow told Aviation Week that not only would Space Prize winners secure the $50 million purse, half of which he’s putting up himself, but also snag options to service inflatable space habitats under development by Bigelow Aerospace.
Bigelow’s Gamble Aviation Week & Space Technology
The Bigelow Aerospace project to privately develop inflatable Earth-orbit space modules is beginning to integrate diverse U.S. and European technologies into subscale and full-scale inflatable test modules and subsystems at the company’s heavily guarded facilities here. While much public attention is focused on the massive International Space Station (ISS), Bigelow has quietly become a mini-Skunk Works for the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC). Ongoing technical assistance to Bigelow from JSC is focused on helping the company spawn development of orbiting commercial inflatable modules by the end of the decade, with the possibility of JSC later using the Bigelow technology for inflatable modules on the Moon or Mars.
A new research station at the bottom of the world may give future Antarctica researchers some special treats, like the ability to live above ground and look out a window. German scientists are adapting a habitat designed by the European Space Agency (ESA) to replace the shifting, disappearing and aging Neumayer II Research Station, a pair of metal tubes buried amongst the snow of the Ekstrom Ice Shelf in Antarctica’s Atka Bay. The Antarctic version of ESA’s space house is only the beginning, especially for an agency with loftier goals. “We dream to go to Mars,” SpaceHouse designer Fritz Gampe said. “To do that we need very lightweight housing.” It might be inflatable or use rocket cylinders or the present shell-shaped structure.
An inflatable lifeboat could one day ferry stranded astronauts back to Earth, if a prototype’s test flights are successful next month. The re-entry vehicle weighs just 130 kilograms and is being developed to carry cargo back from the International Space Station (ISS). But its inventors believe that it could also let astronauts bail out of the space station, or deliver robots to the surface of Mars.
Budget Suites of America owner Robert Bigelow made his fortune by offering weary business travelers a fully furnished home away from home, complete with on-site laundry. He now wants to bring the same feeling of comfort and convenience to a new frontier in leisure: outer space. Through his latest business venture, Bigelow Aerospace, the hotel mogul, who caught the space bug as a boy in the 1950s, has been quietly building the world’s first commercial space station.
For this desert gambling town it could become an odds-on favorite: Inflatable space modules. With company facilities spread out across some 50 acres here in North Las Vegas, Bigelow Aerospace is bankrolling big-time the private development of large space habitats. Extensive work is underway in designing and building partial and full-scale inflatable modules, fabricated to serve a range of users, from bio-tech firms and educational institutions to other groups wanting to churn out made-in-microgravity products.