This morning, a new company announced plans to market its own laboratory and space hotel for tourist and scientists.
It is called Bigelow Space Operations (BSO), and behind it is the tycoon Robert Bigelow, known for his designs of inflatable modules such as the one that is already docked in the International Space Station, and owner of the hotel chain Budget Suites.
As announced by Bigelow himself at the press conference where he presented the company, his intention is to capitalize the demand for human operations in low Earth orbit . For this, BSO will be allied with Bigelow Aerospace, the other space company that the businessman created 20 years ago to manufacture inflatable human habitats such as the ISS.
The timing of the announcement could not have been better. Last week we learned that Donald Trump had expressed his intention to stop financing the International Space Station in 2024. Bigelow has been presented as an alternative , implying that if the Station is closed or reused for other things, it should be done in parallel with a NASA that should adapt to use commercial infrastructures.
Therefore, it seems that one of the main ideas for this Bigelow Space Operations is to offer an option so that companies and countries that are operating the ISS can continue to do so in their spacecraft. For this, the company plans to launch two inflatable modules of 55 feet (16.7 meters) in 2021 like the one it already has on the International Space Station, and connect them in space to form its own space station.
A private station for scientists and tourists
After this presentation, Bigelow will lead two different companies, but they will collaborate in the development of habitats in space. On the one hand, Bigelow Aerospace will continue to develop and manufacture space hardware, while BSO will be dedicated to commercializing its services in the Earth’s lower atmosphere, about 400 kilometers high.
“These unique structures to host humans permanently will be the largest and most complex ever known as stations for human use in space,” the magnate has promised. “From a perspective of human use, we are in the very early, very early stages of this,” he concluded, referring to the use of space stations.
Bigelow will dedicate its private space station to all kinds of uses. On the one hand, it will sell time on board to countries and organizations that need an orbital laboratory, but it will also accept multi-million dollar reserves for tourists who are looking for a “different” destination to stay in.
First you will have to know if it is a viable project
Despite having already created the company and presented its main objective, the employer sees two problems that could threaten its viability . The first is China, which has already shown interest in creating its own space station, as well as joining Europe in other projects such as the creation of a lunar base. In both cases, the Asian country could take part of the potential clientele of Bigelow.
And the second problem is NASA itself, which with its Gateway project is preparing to create a new space station with other agencies in deep space abandoning their projects in low orbit, something that could make the interest of their other potential customers this low orbit is diluted.
“If those ISS partners are now courted to participate in deep space operations, they may not have much money left to be customers in low Earth orbit,” the businessman has admitted. “We are all in favor of Gateway, but that should not be the only thing that is offered to partners, they should have the ability to have extra money to spend on operations in low orbit.”
To try to solve these problems or minimize their impact, Bigelow will first try to make sure that there is a real market for their products. For this, he has ensured that his new company will start spending millions to understand the global space market.
“Everyone is talking about this and that about commercial space, but talking is easy,” he said. “By the time Christmas arrives we should have a much greater understanding of what this marketing for humans in space really means.”