Bet­ting big on a space ho­tel

Hote­lier Robert Bigelow plans pricey habi­tats in low Earth or­bit,

Ottawa Citizen - - BUSINESS & TECHNOLOGY -

RWASH­ING­TON obert Bigelow got rich off bud­get ho­tel suites that start at $189 a week. Now they are fund­ing his dream of build­ing in­flat­able space habi­tats with rates top­ping $400,000 a day.

For the Las Ve­gas busi­ness­man, his de­sire to build low or­bital dwellings is the ul­ti­mate gam­ble. He has bet $500 mil­lion of his own money on his closely held ven­ture, Bigelow Aero­space LLC — five times what bil­lion­aire Elon Musk in­vested in his own space com­pany.

“If you don’t have bucks, there’s no Buck Rogers,” said Bigelow, 68, echo­ing a phrase from the film, The Right Stuff, about the early days of the U.S. space flight pro­gram.

The Na­tional Aero­nau­tics and Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion this month an­nounced a $17.8-mil­lion con­tract to Bigelow Aero­space for an in­flat­able room that will be at­tached to a port on the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion some­time in 2015. As­tro­nauts will use the pro­to­type for two years, al­low­ing NASA to test the tech­nol­ogy for “pen­nies on the dol­lar,” said Lori Garver, the agency’s deputy ad­min­is­tra­tor.

Bigelow has spent about half of his stake. He may never re­coup the in­vest­ment, ac­cord­ing to Jeff Foust, an an­a­lyst at Futron Corp., a Bethesda, Md.-based tech­nol­ogy con­sult­ing firm.

“Are there enough cus­tomers out there to make this a worth­while ven­ture?” Foust said. “It’s yet to be seen.”

NASA’s award to Bigelow Aero­space means that the 3,000-pound in­flat­able spare room that uses a Kevlar-like fab­ric called Vec­tran will be tested to see how it with­stands space de­bris and ra­di­a­tion.

Even­tu­ally, Bigelow in­tends to build stand-alone sta­tions launched by pri­vately op­er­ated rock­ets that can be used as re­search lab­o­ra­to­ries or­bit­ing Earth or be part of an ef­fort to es­tab­lish a per­ma­nent pres­ence on the moon or Mars.

Although a per­ma­nent habi­tat won’t be ready be­fore 2016, his com­pany is pro­mot­ing a round-trip flight and 60-day stay aboard the “Al­pha Sta­tion” for $26.3 mil­lion per cus­tomer.

James Oberg, a former mis­sion con­trol spe­cial­ist for NASA and space con­sul­tant in Dickinson, Texas, who ac­com­pa­nied Bigelow to Rus­sia in 2007 for the launch of a pro­to­type habi­tat, said the hote­lier has the pas­sion to help shape the next gen­er­a­tion of space travel.

“Bigelow has his own style and his own pas­sions,” Oberg said.


NASA deputy ad­min­is­tra­tor Lori Garver and Robert Bigelow, pres­i­dent and founder of Bigelow Aero­space, talk while stand­ing next to the Bigelow Ex­pand­able Ac­tiv­ity Mod­ule (BEAM) dur­ing a me­dia brief­ing.

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