Bigelow Aerospace’s factory houses a mock-up of a massive home for future astronauts. The difference with this design? It could be packed into a rocket and unfurled in space. The future space house is designed to hold a dozen people comfortably, functioning as a large space station or as a building block for a moon base.
Robert T. Bigelow, the company’s namesake founder, explained at a news conference in February that the massive new space house is called Olympus, named after the mythological home of the Greek gods and a measure of Mr. Bigelow’s ambitions for constructing habitats in space.
As Asgardia aims to build habitable platforms in low-Earth orbit this type of technology is very important to be aware of.
Bigelow’s factory also holds a developmental version of the spine of a more modest B330 module, which the company actually intends to build. When compared to Olympus, it is small but it would still be much less cramped than the current International Space Station.
Mr. Bigelow stated that his plans include having two B330s ready to be deployed in 2021. If so, this could signal a shift from a half-century of human spaceflight as a monopoly of government-run agencies like NASA to a private company free-for-all. The Trump administration wants to speed up that transition by stopping the direct federal financing of the space station after 2024.
According to Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator, in an interview last week. The space agency would prefer having numerous providers that are competing on cost and innovation, and they would like to see NASA become one of many customers.
As per Bridenstine, if commercial stations become less expensive to operate then NASA will have more money to further other goals, such as sending astronauts to the moon and Mars.
However, it is still unclear if there is a solid market for these innovations and Mr. Bigelow, who made his fortune founding Budget Suites of America, conceded earlier this year that he is still unsure if he will be able to find customers for his B330s.
If there is no market then the B330s would be sitting on the ground waiting for deployment, according to Mr. Bigelow.
Currently, the International Space Station is the only place where no more than six people at a time live away from Earth. It is a technological powerhouse and the most expensive thing that humans have ever built. The 15 nations involved, led by the United States and Russia, have spent much more than $100 billion during a period of more than twenty years. The United States spends $3 billion to $4 billion annually.
For almost 18 years the ISS has been continually occupied, the station functions as a testbed for studying the long-term effects of radiation and weightlessness on astronauts. NASA has become experienced at running the station, mostly reducing breakdowns such as clogged toilets, balky cooling systems, and crashing computers.
And one of the more notable aspects about life on the International Space Station it that it has become unremarkable. It is essentially a home office even if it is over 200 miles above Earth and travelling at 17,000 miles per hour. It is a place where astronauts work, eat, sleep, exercise, check on experiments, and perform daily chores.
Spacewalks, an activity that truly seems out of this world only take place occasionally.
And now the announcement to possibly retire the International Space Station, part of the administration’s budget request, came as a surprise to many. Companies such as Bigelow are years from launching their space stations, and such expensive, cutting-edge projects often run behind schedule.
Critics are concerned that the International Space Station might be retired before its successors are ready. A gap without space stations would disrupt NASA’s studies, in addition to emerging commercial endeavours. Plus, new space station companies could go bankrupt if the hoped-for customers are slow to manifest.
While some companies are already paying to perform small experiments on the space station, they are heavily subsidized by the government. For example, NASA presently picks up the cost of sending experiments to and from space.
Another interesting example is the failure of a Russian Soyuz rocket on Oct 11, which was taking two astronauts to the space station. This failure demonstrates how companies’ space endeavours could be undermined by events outside their control, making the long-term investments of such enterprises risky.
In fact, space policy experts, even those who enthusiastically hope that NASA will take a more commercial approach, hesitate to predict when putting people in space becomes economically viable for private enterprise.
Charles Miller, a former NASA official who is now president of Nexgen Space stated that in 2025, he expects there will be three space stations in orbit: the International Space Station, the Chinese station and the beginnings of a commercial one.
However, Miller added that for now we will still have heated debates about the future of the International Space Station.
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