Friday, February 23, 2007

Coming Soon: Private-Sector Moonbase

Bigelow Aerospace explains their plans to MSNBC:

Even as Bigelow Aerospace gears up for launching its second prototype space station into orbit, the company has set its sights on something much, much bigger: a project to assemble full-blown space villages at a work site between Earth and the moon, then drop them to the lunar surface, ready for immediate move-in.

In an exclusive interview this week, Las Vegas billionaire Robert Bigelow confirmed that his company has been talking about the concept with NASA – and that the first earthly tests of the techniques involved would take place later this year. The scenario he sketched out would essentially make Bigelow a general contractor for the final frontier.

That role would be a good fit for Bigelow, who made his fortune in the real estate, hotel and construction business and is now focused on developing inflatable modules (or as he prefers to call them, "expandable systems") that can serve as the building blocks for orbital living complexes.

The first big step down that path came in July, when a Russian booster put Bigelow's Genesis 1 prototype module into orbit. Bigelow has said even he was surprised by the success of that mission, and he has committed himself to spending hundreds of millions of dollars to follow up on that first launch.

The next test module, Genesis 2, is due for launch in April – with a larger prototype, known as Galaxy, tentatively scheduled for liftoff next year. Bigelow's plan calls for launching the company's first space "hotel" capable of accommodating guests (or researchers, for that matter) in 2010.

Getting all that right is "Job One," Bigelow told me. But by 2012, the focus could start shifting from low Earth orbit, or LEO, farther out into space. One of the key places in Bigelow's plan is a point about 200,000 miles (323,000 kilometers) out from Earth in the moon's direction, where the pulls of terrestrial and lunar gravity balance each other.

Read the whole interview. It's fascinating. And the implications of getting the private sector truly involved in space travel and colonization are tremendous.

No comments: