A private company in the US says it wants to launch its first space hotel by 2021 to house humans on a permanent basis.
Bigelow Aerospace is famed for its inflatable habitats, one of which is currently docked to the International Space Station (ISS) – the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM).
But the company has its eye on grander goals, namely developing private space hotels that paying customers will be able to visit. And last week, it announced a new division of its company – called Bigelow Space Operations (BSO) – to make this happen.
“Over time, Bigelow Aerospace will manufacture a single station, launched on a single rocket that will contain over 2.4 times the pressurized volume of the entire International Space Station,” the company said in a statement.
The company plans to launch two prototype habitats, the B330-1 and B330-2, in 2021. They said these “single structures that house humans on a permanent basis will be the largest, most complex structures ever known as stations for human use in space.”
The B330 is a single module that is launched in a compact form, expanding to its full size when in orbit. This is the cornerstone of Bigelow’s technology – launching things in compact form, thus saving space on launch, and expanding in orbit.
After it has expanded, the B330 measures 16.8 meters (55.1 feet) long and 6.7 meters (22 feet) wide, with room for six people. The company said it was on track to launch in 2021, and they would spend millions of dollars this year working out the exact target market for their station, named Alpha Station.
Who will go to these habitats isn’t clear, nor is it clear exactly what they’ll be used for. The company’s CEO, Robert Bigelow, said it would cost in the “low seven figures” to stay aboard the station.
In October last year, Bigelow Aerospace also revealed a partnership with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to build a habitat in lunar orbit as soon as 2022. ULA also seems to be involved in some capacity with the Earth orbit B330 plan as well.
The news comes as the future of the ISS looks increasingly uncertain, with NASA’s latest budget suggesting it may end involvement in the international project in 2025. If all goes to plan, Bigelow’s B330 could provide an alternative for companies hoping to continue research in Earth orbit.
Two new American spacecraft – SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner – are also expected to begin taking humans into orbit by 2019. Bigelow’s space station could be a possible destination for astronauts on board these spacecraft.