Prototypes of Bigelow Aerospace’s Sundancer habitat via Bigelow Aerospace
In 2014, Bigelow Aerospace, a private space development company in Las Vegas founded by Robert Bigelow, is set to launch a space station that will be leased to governments, companies and perhaps space tourists. Its activities in space are planned to dwarf those of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and other governmental space agencies.
Central to this future space station is the Sundancer, an expandable space habitat being developed by Bigelow Aerospace. Fabricated mainly of multiple layers of a Kevlar-type material, Sundancer is launched unmanned, designed to be packed inside a small payload area. It then expands into its full volume once in orbit.
A full-sized model of this future space station sits on the warehouse of Bigelow Aerospace factory, prototypes of the inflatable Sundancer arranged into what will become the solar system’s first private space station. Paying customers — primarily nations that do not have the money or expertise to build a space program from scratch — would arrive a year later. The future space station consists of two of these Sundancers and one larger habitat that is linked via a node similar to the International Space Station Unity module.
Mr. Bigelow has spent about $180 million of his own money so far and has said he is willing to spend up to $320 million more. The plan is that in 2014, Sundancers begin their voyage to create a space station. One year later (2015), the first paying customers—mainly nations that do not have the money or expertise to build a space program from scratch, will arrive. And in 2016, a second, larger station would follow. The two Bigelow stations would then be home to 36 people at a time — six times as many as currently live on the International Space Station.
A stay on a Bigelow station, including transportation, is currently priced at just under $25 million a person for 30 days. That is less than half the more than $50 million a seat that NASA is paying for rides alone on Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station. Doubling the stay to 60 days adds just $3.75 million more.
Bigelow currently has two fully inflated test modules in orbit already, and if plans go to schedule, the company will be buying 15 to 20 rocket launchings in 2017 and in each year after, providing ample business for the private companies that will be part of the so-called commercial crew initiative, where governments (including NASA) and other enterprises buy rides for astronauts into orbit. Boeing is currently developing a new capsule that will act like a ‘space taxi’, transporting the crew to and from Sundancer.
Sundancer is the third prototype for Bigelow Aerospace following the successful launches of Genesis 1 in July 2006 and Genesis II in June 2007.
Known for not granting many interviews, space entrepreneur Robert Bigelow first discussed in 2002 his vision of what we will experience when we habitat space with the Sputnik Observatory:
Just the fact of moving ourselves out into space someday, eventually humans will bump into an extraterrestrial sooner or later. That’s going to become an event, for sure. And that will be a significant consciousness-changing event. Wouldn’t it be interesting? Imagine what you could share. But again you get into that, as you remove yourself from a city into a rural environment, you see how people behave differently, usually. Things are usually a little bit more calm down on the ranch. So there is probably going to be a different kind of behavior and different kind of culture that would emanate from a colony on Mars. Even if there were 10 or 20 or 30-thousand people, or on some huge orbiting space station facility of some sort. There would be significant differences between those folks and those folks back on home, back on terraform, Earth. And especially if they were allowed to be there for a few generations, and you look back and they were there for like 50 years on that colony on Mars, were growing and were around for 50 years, and somebody who was born and raised there finally made a trip to planet Earth. You could imagine that would be quite an interesting experience. For both sides. Suppose the Earthlings had never seen that colony, nobody from that colony had ever visited Earth – and you had this large number of people, that were thriving, thousands, and nobody had visited Earth for some reason, just in theory. You would probably have, it would not be just like meeting somebody from a different country, it would be a very interesting exchange. So I imagine as you expand that on out, those differences are going to grow, even if the physiology doesn’t change, but physically I think there would be some significant physical changes because of the gravitational influences.