Bigelow Aerospace says its inflatable space hotel
could be ready for lunar orbit by 2022.
One of the company’s pods is already attached to
the International Space Station.
Bigelow is touting the future pod as a hub for
“lunar business development,” but the company would probably
need NASA to get it funded.
Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas-based space pod
company, wants to send an inflatable space hotel to
orbit the moon, with accommodations for astronauts and
citizen space travelers alike.
The company partnered with NASA in 2016 to attach an
inflatable, soft-shell demo pod onto the International Space
Station. Now, Bigelow has announced that a bigger inflatable
pod, which it’s calling the B330 “lunar depot”, could
be orbiting the moon in five years.
That moon station is much more ambitious than Bigelow’s ISS
add-on. It’s designed to stand alone and is about a
third of the size of the ISS. The
company suggests the pod could hold
roughly six people, and is billing it as a hub for
“significant lunar business development.”
Providing accommodations for future space travelers is a logical
next step for the company’s founder, Robert Bigelow, who owns the
Budget Suites of America hotel chain and has been working
on creating expandable space modules since 1999.
United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and
Lockheed Martin, plans to partner with Bigelow
to launch the habitat into space,
then get it circling around the moon.
Expandable, soft-shell space habitats are easier to fit into
rockets for launch than other heavier structures.
Bigelow said in
a statement that its pods also “provide for
greater volume, safety, opportunity and economy than the aluminum
The company’s ‘Bigelow Expandable Activity Module,’
or BEAM, was
attached to the International Space Station in
April 2016 and then
blown up to full size that May. Astronauts don’t live
inside it, but they use the space for experiments, collecting air
and surface samples to test for microbes, as well
as monitoring how effective the BEAM is at
blocking radiation. NASA has said it might
extend BEAM’s stay at the ISS beyond its initial two
year test run, and use the inflatable space as
long-term storage. The space agency has said that so
far, the soft materials Bigelow used to create BEAM are
proving they can perform just as well as more rigid structures in
“Re. Lunar Depot: Capital has been flowing from both companies
and will continue,” Bigelow wrote, then added,
“NASA & this country will need to have investment also to pay
for the benefits.”
Lunar exploration has gained renewed attention in
recent weeks — earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence
promised to “refocus America’s space program toward human
exploration and discovery” in
an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Pence wrote that
establishing a “renewed American presence on the moon” is a vital
strategic goal for the U.S.
NASA is currently working on a ‘Deep Space
Gateway’ project with the Russian Space Agency, which could
involve a site near the moon that would serve as a pit-stop
for astronauts on long-term missions to Mars.
NASA has said that site would have a “small habitat
to extend crew time.” In a statement sent to Business Insider,
NASA confirmed Bigelow is one of six companies the agency
has selected to develop full-size prototypes for the habitat.
The US has pledged
to send humans to Mars by 2033. In an announcement about the B330 last year,
Bigelow and United Launch Alliance said that this habitat could
house researchers on their way to the Red Planet.
Here’s what the company says the craft would look like on
its way to the moon: