All new ventures are risky, but Robert Bigelow's latest ambition is out of this world.
Bigelow, the founder and owner of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, is also the founder of Bigelow Aerospace.
Last month, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket was tasked with delivering a cargo spacecraft called Dragon, which contained scientific equipment and supplies and an inflatable habitat from Bigelow Aerospace called BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module). Today, BEAM was attached to the ISS for a two-year test run, and Bigelow already has his eye on the company's next big goal: putting habitable commercial space stations aloft by 2020.
At the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., Bigelow and Tony Bruno, the president and CEO of United Launch Alliance, announced that the firms are partnering to bring Bigelow's B330 space habitat into orbit on ULA's Atlas V rocket. The company says that the B330 is 12,000 cubic feet, can house up to six people and has a lifespan of 20 years.
The B330 is meant to be both a hub for research in zero gravity and lodging for both space tourism and possible future missions to the Moon and Mars. It's likely not outside the realm of possibility that the two companies are envisioning a future that includes a thriving hospitality industry in space.
"[B330] enables destinations in space for countries, corporations and even individuals far beyond what is available today, effectively democratizing space," Bruno said in a joint statement. "We can’t begin to imagine the future potential of affordable real estate in space.”
But for now, the priority is to keep testing safe ways to get there.
In ULA's 10-year-old history -- founded in 2006 by mainstay aerospace and defense firms Boeing and Lockheed Martin -- it has had over 100 successful launches, although the company did have to postpone its next mission due to an issue with the rocket's fuel system.
Private space travel is inching closer to reality, with SpaceX's April landing at sea a major milestone for the Elon Musk-led company. Earlier that month, Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin had a third successful launch and landing for its reusable rocket, and is aiming for human test flights as soon as next year.
But while Virgin Galactic has rocketed the wealthy into orbit, it has never taken passengers into outer space for an extended stay. So that is to say, Bigelow may build it, but will they come?
This story originally published on April 12.