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Space station builder lays out business plan

Space entrepreneur Robert Bigelow has rolled out a business plan to dot low Earth orbit with habitable complexes and offer four-week stays at $14,950,000 per person, starting in 2012.
This artist's conception shows an orbital complex assembled from Bigelow Aerospace's inflatable modules.
This artist's conception shows an orbital complex assembled from Bigelow Aerospace's inflatable modules.Bigelow Aerospace
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Space entrepreneur Robert Bigelow has rolled out a business plan to dot low Earth orbit with habitable complexes that would serve two primary markets: “Sovereign Clients” that represent foreign space agencies and “Prime Clients” that come from multinational corporations. 

Robert Bigelow, founder and president of Bigelow Aerospace, as well as owner of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, detailed his firm’s business agenda for space here at the 23rd National Space Symposium.

The plans of Bigelow Aerospace have been bolstered by the successful orbiting of its Genesis 1 expandable module by a Dnepr booster last July, under contract with ISC Kosmotras, a Russian and Ukrainian rocket-for-hire company.

Speaking in front of a backdrop that read, “Making Orbital Dreams Reality,” Bigelow said it is a misnomer to regard his company as a space hotel company. Rather, it should be viewed as a wholesaler of destinations in space, he said.

While seeing the suborbital tourism market as a viable private industry, “we can’t count upon any kind of business model that has some dependency upon NASA” with regard to supporting orbital business growth, Bigelow said.

“In the suborbital case, I think that they are free of a lot of politics. In the orbiting area that we’re involved in, because of the makeup of our respective client base we’re going to be steeped in politics … drowning in politics,” he said.

High-tech hang time
At present, Bigelow said worldwide there are about 225 active astronauts. Why not more after so many years? The answer, he said, is that up to now there has only been one destination from time to time to time.

“What we’re out to do is try and identify maybe 50 or 60 countries … to provide them ‘hang time’” – a term he identified as the activity of foreign nation’s astronauts flying for four weeks in a Bigelow Aerospace-provided orbital complex, conducting that nation’s experiments or other activities and returning those individuals to Earth after their respective missions.

“Our forecast for this service to be available is 2012. Obviously, the long pole in the tent is transportation … a major, major thing,” he said.

Bigelow outlined a price structure to utilize Bigelow-crewed space facilities. The plan evolves from the scheduled orbiting in 2010 of the company’s first habitable complex called Sundancer, outfitted to accommodate three people. Once in orbit, a propulsion bus and node would be lofted to attach to Sundancer in 2011.

In 2012, Bigelow Aerospace would loft the first standard, six-person module, substantially bigger than Sundancer. By ganging modules together and associated hardware, larger complexes can be crafted in Earth orbit to house upwards of 13 to 15 people.

The projected cost for transportation and living onboard a Bigelow space complex for a four-week period is $14,950,000 in 2012 dollars.

“We’re trying to make it easy for people to say ‘yes,’” Bigelow said, to depart Earth and to obtain hang time in low Earth orbit for a variety of purposes. Module complexes would be spaced in different locales in low Earth orbit, depending on the activities in which the facility and its occupants are engaged, he advised.

Construction plant growth
Bigelow said a major expansion of ground-based construction facilities in Las Vegas is on tap. “Our objective is to be able to create a plant that will produce two [full-standard] modules a year … for starters.”

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“The landscape is littered with challenges everywhere you look,” Bigelow told “It’s like glass is everywhere.”

Up to now, Bigelow Aerospace has spent about $95 million. “It’ll take a lot more money to get us into the 2012 time frame,” Bigelow said, indicating that he is putting together an investment strategy that will make possible the establishment of commercial space complexes, not only for low Earth orbit, but other destinations too.

The Genesis 2 is now in Russia, with a target launch date of April 26, Bigelow said.