Robert Bigelow is a hotel, construction and real estate mogul who founded Bigelow Aerospace in 1999. Since then, the entrepreneur has dedicated more than $180 million to launching two prototype space stations into orbit. Now, Space.com reports that he plans to create a quick-deploy moon base capable of housing astronauts in inflatable modules on the lunar surface.
Not only would this lunar base house astronauts — it would actually be assembled in space. A pilot then brings it down to a landing spot on the lunar surface. Two prototypes have already been launched into space and are circling the Earth. Genesis 1 was launched in 2006, and Genesis 2 was launched in 2007. Both are the first stages of expandable modules for the eventual space structures.
These resilient private lunar habitats would be much bigger than the International Space Station. One habitat blueprint comes in at 2,100 cubic meters of volume while another provides 3,240 cubic meters of volume. Topped off with propulsion tanks and power units, the habitats could be linked and transported to the landing site.
As Bigelow told Space.com, "The vessels are configured to be independent of each other, to be self-sustaining. In theory, you might have 12 people occupying the lunar station ... which could actually handle 18 people ... We would reinforce everything, the intersections where the spacecrafts come together, so they would be able to accommodate an uneven surface." Once the habitat has landed, a solar field could be deployed nearby for an easy energy source.
Bigelow Aerospace is in talks with NASA. Space.com reports there have been ongoing discussions between Bigelow Aerospace and the space agency regarding a module attached to the International Space Station. Bigelow also hopes that his structures may be part of Lagrangian Point L1, which is between the Earth and the moon. He hopes that this would also be part of future expeditions to Mars. Bigelow’s quest comes as NASA has been shifting much of its program to accommodate private space companies.
Michael Gold is director of Washington, D.C., operations and business growth for Bigelow Aerospace. As he told Space.com, "We need to make low-Earth orbit work first before we go beyond ... but I believe we will. ... Once we've established a robust infrastructure in Earth orbit, created the economies of scale necessary to produce facilities in low Earth orbit ... at that point, we've really enabled ourselves to look at a variety of options."
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