Elon Musk wants to send hundreds of people to Mars. Jeff Bezos wants to put millions of people in space to live and work to eccentric billionaires with big eccentric dreams.
There’s only one problem with it. Actually, they’re, like a million problems, but one thing at a time if people are gon na live and work and travel for months and even years at a time in space, they’re gon na need a place to live up There enter another eccentric billionaire Robert Bigelow in his company, Bigelow Aerospace.
At the time of this recording the International Space Station has been occupied for 18 years 3 months and 18 days. As somebody was born the first day it was occupied, they could vote now and that’s kind of mind-blowing.
When you think about it, the ISS is truly a wonder of the modern world. Of course, it can only house six people at a time and most of the time that they’re on there is spent doing scientific experiments and just maintaining the space station, and then there’s.
The cost of the ISS, which has been described as a single most expensive item ever made in history at 150 billion dollars, and it was serviced and built using 36 flights and a space shuttle at 1.6 billion dollars per flight.
If we’re going to expand our presence in space, we’re gon na have to do better than that. Of course, the biggest problem with putting up places to live in space is the size of the modules that people would be living in because there’s only so much you can fit in a payload fairing and when technology to get around, that is Inflatable habitats, with inflatable modules, what you actually launch into space is only a fraction of the size of the actual module once it’s inflated.
That means that something that can fit inside a standard, payload fairing could expand a much bigger sizes than what we could possibly do right now, and this technology became the passion project. A real estate tycoon and Robert Bigelow Robert Bigelow grew up in Las Vegas and still lives there.
Today, Vegas, of course, is known for all the lights and the flash and the spectacle, but back in the 1950s, it was known for a different kind of Lights. In flash and spectacle atomic bombs yeah, so the area around Las Vegas was actually a testing ground for the United States nuclear program.
They would just blow up nuclear bombs in the open air, like you do, and the people who lived in Las Vegas. That was like entertainment for them they would go out and and watch these bombs go off like you do no judgment, I’d watch that it turns out growing up seeing some of the most destructive bombs in the history of mankind blowing up in His backyard had quite an impact on little Robert Bigelow and it spurred an interest in science that he carried with him for the rest of his life.
He took particular interest in the space race. Of course everybody was interested in space race back then, but unfortunately for him he felt like he didn’t really have the math skills. It was necessary to really compete in the space race of the 50s and 60s and that’s.
Not a judgment against him. Most people don’t have those kinds of math skills. It’s called rocket science for a reason, but luckily for him he did have amazing business skills, business skills that he put to work in the real estate market and he became massively successful by the 1990s.
Robert Bigelow was a multi billionaire, due mostly in part to his ownership of budget Suites of America, and this was when he decided to put his long secret plan into action. Yeah a plan that he apparently kept secret from everyone, including his wife, and that plan, was to invest five hundred million dollars of his own money to create the world’s first commercial space station, and with that goal in mind in 1999, he founded Bigelow Aerospace.
Well, the first thing they did at Bigelow Aerospace was license technology from NASA for inflatable habitats. Okay, so I don’t know if this was just some lucky timing of their part with this was something they’ve been following and they were kind of capitalizing on, but in the 90s as final preparations were being put in a Place for the ISS NASA was working on an inflatable habitat program called trans hab.
Trans hab was an inflatable module that could expand out to 11 meters long and eight point two meters in diameter almost twice as wide as the current modules on the space station. All in all, it would provide 339 cubic meters of space and it would be divided into four levels: to provide storage, living quarters and workout areas.
It was a great idea, but, as the cost of the ISS began to rise, the political pressure got bigger for NASA to cancel the program in the year 2000 and that’s. When Bigelow Aerospace bought up all the patents that they created for it.
And they put these patents to work immediately on the Genesis program. These were two different inflatable habitats that they sent up into space. They were unmanned. They were just there to test all the different systems and make sure that they were worthy for human spaceflight.
They built and launched to Genesis missions Genesis, one launched from Russia in July of 2006 Genesis 2 launched in June of 2007. These unmanned modules expand to 4.4 metres in length and two and a half meters and ammeter.
They’re filled with science, experiments and sensors to monitor the environment, and they also had some fun allowing the public to place an item in the module and then articleed the items floating around the cabin everything from ashes to pictures to business cards.
We think of them watch on their web feed all for the low low price of $ 299, and they also attempted to play space bingo using the microgravity of space to mix up the bingo balls and projected images on the side of the module describing it.
As the first billboard in space, but the main job of the genesis mission was just to test the viability of these inflatable habitats in space and in that they were a success. They maintained contact with it for two and a half years, which was actually beyond the scope of the original mission, and they’re still out there today.
Actually, they’re, probably gon na do orbit in the next year or so, because they’re slowly losing altitude and when they do it’s. Probably gon na be quite a silent sight. Following the Genesis program, there were two other projects from Bigelow that they were gon na launch up.
They’re, getting progressively bigger and more sophisticated. One was called Sundancer, one was called galaxies, but they & # 39. Ve never really got beyond the prototype stage because, as it turned out nasa reached out to see if they could put an expandable module on the space station around 2010 nasa star reexamining the whole idea of expandable habitats, and they took a look at the Genesis program.
They liked what they saw and they decided instead of reinventing the wheel here’s. Bigelow here’s, the company it’s already, are you know working on it, so they just contracted with them to make one for the space station and the result was beam which stands for Bigelow expandable Activity, module which launched on the Spacex, CRS 8 mission in April of 2016 beam, packed away to a tiny two point: two six meters by two point: three six meters and then inflated to 4.
01 by three point: two: three meters, adding 16 cubic meters of space to the ISS when attached now beam, Is very much an experimental program. This isn’t like a space where the astronauts are hanging out and playing ping-pong or anything it’s, just mostly used for storage, and in fact they keep the door closed on it when they’re, not specifically using It but that’s; okay, because it’s all there just to test this technology.
They monitor the the conditions inside of it and they’re, just making sure that it’s, something that could actually be used for human habitation later on. It was designed to be tested for two years and they’re.
Studying how well it holds up to micro, meteoroids, its thermal insulation, protection from radiation, mechanical durability and long-term leak performance in so far it’s passed with flying colors. After about a year, they recorded that it actually gotten a few micrometeorite impacts, but it didn’t, look like it had penetrated the surface in any way, and the radiation levels inside are just the same as they are in the rest of the ISS.
In fact, in 2017, its two-year mission was expanded to 2020, with the option to extend it to more times beyond that, since I mentioned it, it’s probably got you guys curious, exactly how it protects against micro, meteoroids and radiation.
Well, let me tell you, my friends, let me tell you so, first of all, they use multiple levels and by multiple I mean, like 24 different levels of a type of material called Vectren, which is twice as strong as Kevlar, and that’s.
What they make bulletproof vests out of and Bigelow actually states that these flexible inflatable habitats are actually stronger than the rigid hulls that we normally see on the ISS, because that flexibility allows the energy to dissipate across the surface instead of allowing whatever it is to puncture.
Through and as for the radiation shielding, they use multiple levels of a closed-cell polymer foam that, according to a 2002 NASA study, quote materials that have high hydrogen content, such as polyethylene, can reduce primary and secondary radiation to a greater extent than metals such as aluminum.
So it seems counterintuitive, but these inflatable habitats could actually provide better protection against impacts in radiation than what they’re currently using on the ISS feel free to debate that statement down in the comments.
So all of this is well and good, but Bigelow’s. Ultimate goal is to create a commercial space station, one that can be rented out by space tourists by science, labs and by industry and manufacturing companies.
The three projects they want so far in the two canceled programs, we’re, all just experimental tests, leading up to their flagship module the B 330. This bad boy is 16.8 metres long and six point seven metres wide and has 1/3 the volume of the entire ISS it’s been described as a one launch space station and can comfortably house six crew members.
It features massive solar panels for power generation and two large thermal grids to release heat and, of course, it’s, modular meaning it can dock with multiple other habitats, which again three of these would be larger than the ISS.
This is what Bigelow has been working on from the very beginning and to show how serious they are about this. In February of last year 2018, they created a subsidiary Bonita Bigelow Space Operations, whose sole purpose is to manage and promote the be 332 partners, and one of those partners is ula who plans to launch the first b3 30 on the Atlas 5 rocket in the year 2020, the B 330, of course, is just the jumping-off point.
Bigelow has released plans for all kinds of designs from a three module concept that called space the complex alpha 2 for module design, called space, complex beta, two lunar stations, deep space stations and Mars exploration stations.
The b3 30 could play a vital role in the proposed lunar orbiting station that NASA has their eyes on and they even have a version. They’re designing that could work as a habitat at the surface of the Moon, so they’re kind of running with this, but that doesn’t get you in a techno tizzy.
They actually have even bigger plans than the b3 30 much bigger plans. This is the BA 2117 point, 8 meters long twelve point six meters wide and 2.5 times the volume of the entire International Space Station also called the Olympus.
This is a monstrous space, habitat capable of housing, 16 people at a time where the potential to be an actual space hotel. But this ain’t no budget Suites, give it cuz that’s. Robert Bigelow is camping, rides aboard the Olympus.
Are set to cost twenty five million dollars for ten days in space which actually believe it or not, is a lot cheaper than what’s going right now now there’s, also the issue that even shrunken down before it gets inflated There’s, not a rocket out there right now that could launch this into orbit.
Although the spacex starship /bf, our could possibly do it, possibly the new glen when that comes online, so we’ll, see now all this is really exciting, because real disruption occurs when multiple technologies converge at the same time, and what, with the rise of Private rocket companies, and now we could have private space habitats.
We could actually be in a position in the next 10 or 20 years to be able to go up and stay overnight at a hotel in space, and it is kind of the next logical step. You know once upon a time only nations were able to put satellites up into space, and then it became possible for private companies to create satellites and put those up, and in doing so it completely revolutionized our communication and navigation technologies in the last five years, or So private companies that made serious headway into the market and pretty soon we’re actually gon na have privately launched man missions up into space starting this year, hopefully, and the next pin to fall might be private Space Station’s.
Thanks to Bigelow Aerospace, so the big question: would you do it? If you got a toy and the next cereal box that you open saying you could go, take a flight up to space and stay in one of these inflatable habitats? Would you be down for that?