12 May 2012

Private Space Habitat: 2015 -- SpaceX & Bigelow Team Up

SpaceX is busy gearing up for a date with the International Space Station, but the company now has a second invite to one that doesn't exist yet. SpaceX has announced that it will help fellow private spaceflight firm Bigelow carry its inflatable modules into orbit, with the goal of connecting a bunch to form a proper station.

...The lynchpin is the company's seven-person Dragon capsule, which has so far cleared seven of the 10 checks NASA requires before the agency deems the craft as safe for ferrying human cargo. The Dragon capsule will launch atop SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, and the vehicle is one of the options on the table NASA is considering to further its manned space ambitions in sub-orbit. That cargohold could also include inflatable habitats by Bigelow Aerospace, as both Bigelow and SpaceX just inked a new deal to see it happen. Sometime after SpaceX is ready to rumble, Bigelow will go through the company to launch its BA 330 modules, the latest orbital habitat Bigelow has developed and one that offers 330 square meters of space in an environment that's safer than the International Space Station, according to the firm. While it was once thought that Bigelow would immediately turn these into space hotels for rich thrill seekers, the 330s would instead be joined to form commercial space, one that countries without an advanced program can use for orbital experiments. Of course, before any of that happens, SpaceX has a date with destiny — and the ISS. Right now that rendezvous is scheduled for May 19, though there have been several delays and could be more. _DVice
Bigelow is partnering with SpaceX to work with its BA 330 module, an inflatable habitat based on NASA technology that can hold around six astronauts in relative comfort. The Nevadan company, set up by Robert Bigelow, founder of the Budget Suite hotel chain, has had two test facilities in orbit for years and now appears ready to move into commercial operation.

...The BA 330 is the latest design from Bigelow, giving 330 square meters of habitat when fully inflated. The walls of the shelter are made up of eight layers of materials designed to offer better defense for occupants, and Bigelow claims it offers full radiation protection and better micrometeorite safety than the International Space Station's rigid walls.

..."SpaceX and BA have a lot in common. Both companies were founded to help create a new era in space enterprise," said SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell. "Together we will provide unique opportunities to entities - whether nations or corporations - wishing to have crewed access to the space environment for extended periods."_TheRegister
Once SpaceX demonstrates its ability to reliably supply materials and men to orbital space, it will be able to boost Bigelow's inflatable habitats into orbit.

The goal for $billionaires and would-be $trillionaires such as Bigelow and Musk (of SpaceX), is to develop as many profitable ways of entering and utilising outer space as possible. While actual moon-mining and asteroid-mining may still be a decade or more away, there are a lot of preliminaries to get through, and many other possible ways of profiting from outer space access.

Once the profits start flowing in, the need for a permanent human presence in space will evolve. More: Brian Wang at NextBigFuture takes a look at the collaboration between SpaceX and Bigelow

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