Bigelow Aerospace has spun off a new commercial space company called Bigelow Space Operations (BSO), which will act as the sales, operations, and customer service provider for the inflatable space stations that Bigelow Aerospace is developing. The fledgling company has few employees at the moment, but CEO Robert Bigelow expects BSO to employ up to 500 people when its first stations are launched in 2021.
The International Space Station (ISS) may be winding down, but when it finally ceases operations sometime between 2025 and 2028, low Earth orbit may be set for a population boom. For some years now, Bigelow Aerospace has made no secret about its ambitions to develop inflatable, multipurpose habitat modules that could one day dwarf today's orbital laboratory.
Currently, Bigelow is testing an experimental inflatable module on the ISS and it one day envisions larger siblings of the test unit being used on a permanent basis for laboratories, zero-gravity factories, and even hotels for the adventurous and well off. However, at a conference call for the press, Biglow said that his company had no interest in transitioning from a laboratory to a commercial concern, so BSO is being launched to operate the modules being built by sister company Bigelow Aerospace.
According to Bigelow, these stations will be the largest, most complex structures ever built for human habitation in space, with the first, B330-1 and B330-2, expected to launch in 2021. These will be linked together to form a single space complex, but that is only an interim step as BSO is slated to one day market and manage the Olympus – a monster of a station 2.4 times the volume of the ISS that will require a rocket capable of lifting 80 tons of payload to carry it into orbit.
As part of this plan, BSO will open a new manufacturing facility in either Florida, Alabama, or some other location that has yet to be determined. In the meantime, the company will assess the global, national and corporate commercial space market for orbiting stations.
"We will spend millions of dollars this year to drill down on a conclusion as to what the global space market is going to look like," says CEO Robert Bigelow. "When we look at what is the commercial picture, as far as humans' use of space today, it's a whole lot different than it was 10 years ago."
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