LAS VEGAS – At one end of the factory of Bigelow Aerospace is a model of a gigantic home for future astronauts. With a unique design – it could be packaged into a rocket, then unfolded in space – it would comfortably accommodate a dozen people as a bulky space station or serve as a building block to a lunar base.
& # 39; & # 39; It's going to be a monster spaceship by today's standards, "said Robert T. Bigelow, named after the company at a press conference earlier this year.
This is Olympus, named after the mythological home of the Greek gods and a measure of Bigelow's aspirations to build of Space Settlements.
The B330 Module
Further down the factory floor is a long, thin metal construction, a development version of the backbone of a more modest B330 module that the company actually wants to build Olympus is a little smaller in appearance than Olympus compared to the metal cans that make up the International Space Station.
Bigelow says he has committed to launch two B330s in 2021
"We also want numerous vendors competing for cost and innovation," said NASA Administrator Jim Briddentine. "We want NASA to become a customer of many customers."
If commercial stations turn out to be cheaper, NASA will have more money to pursue other goals, such as sending astronauts to the Moon and Mars, Bridentine
said, but hundreds of millions of dollars on business Bets that do not yet exist could be a quick way to lose a fortune. And space travel remains a dangerous species.
Ministry of the Interior in orbit
Today, the International Space Station is the only place where people – no more than six at the same time – live off the planet. It's a technological tour de force and the most expensive thing humanity has ever built. The 15 participating nations, led by the US and Russia, have spent well over $ 100 billion over the past two decades. The United States spends $ 3-4 billion each year on the station.
The station has been uninterrupted for nearly 18 years and is a testing ground for studying the long-term effects of radiation and weightlessness on astronauts. NASA has managed to run the station and eliminate as much as possible clogged toilets, stumbling cooling systems and crashing computers.
Perhaps life on the International Space Station has become unspectacular: it's a home office, albeit one more 200 miles high and traveling at 17,000 miles an hour, where astronauts work, eat, sleep, do sports, do experiments, do housework do.
Only occasionally does the crew undertake activities such as a spacewalk that really do not seem to be out of this world. 19659002] The possibility of retiring the International Space Station, which is part of the Government's budget proposal, frightened many. Companies like Bigelow are years away from launching their space stations, and such expensive, state-of-the-art projects often fall short of schedule.
Critics fear that the International Space Station could be dropped before its successors are ready. A gap without space stations would disrupt NASA's studies as well as emerging commercial efforts. New space station companies could be in trouble if the hoped-for customers are slow to emerge.
The Fate of Mir
Nearly two decades ago, there was a commercial space station for a short time. It was Russian, and an American named Jeffrey Manber ran it. Maybe it could have succeeded – but NASA killed it.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian space program was tied to money and ready to consider ideas that might have been crazy for a former communist country. I, the Russian space station, was considered dilapidated and outdated, about to be replaced by the larger, better International Space Station.
But Manber and other entrepreneurs in the United States saw Me destined to be destroyed Fuser Upper. Energia, Mir's maker, agreed to work with the Americans to found MirCorp, a commercial company that rented the station from the Russian government.
But the Russians responded to NASA's call to delay Mir from orbiting the Pacific in 2001.
Space debris transformed into Habitat
Manber has since created a successful niche in the Space Station ecosystem as Managing Director of NanoRacks, a small Houston start-up. NanoRacks has simplified the process of sending experiments to the space station and is also launching small satellites known as CubeSats.
Several years ago, Manber asked his engineers to deal with a peculiar idea that NASA had rejected: could missile rockets in orbit after launch be converted into a low-cost space station?
The idea is to put a small robot module between the second stage of a rocket, known as Centaur, and the satellite payload on the top. 19659002] When the Centaur has put the satellite into the desired orbit, it normally burns in the atmosphere. With the NanoRacks plan, after the Centaur has completed its main mission, the robotic piece cuts holes, seals compartments, and transforms the fuel tanks into living quarters.
A & # 39; bajillion reasons to go private
The third major entrant in the private space race is Axiom Space, also based in Houston. It is led by Michael T. Suffredini, who led NASA's International Space Station until he retired in 2015.
Suffredi said a state-of-the-art axiom station would cost about $ 50 million a year, a fraction of what International Space Station costs
There are many reasons why this is so, Suffredi said. "We've done a lot of work to confirm this number, which is also a scary number for us."
Suffrediini would not describe all possible markets in detail, but the business would involve sending the rich on sightseeing trips – Philippe Starck, the French superstar, designs the interior of the Axiom module – and offers factory space for manufacturers who want to make materials that can only be produced in space.
The Near Future
China plans to complete its own space station in the early 2020s, promising to make it available to researchers around the world. Russia has also talked about maintaining half of the International Space Station should the Americans withdraw.
Charles Miller, former NASA official and now President of Nexgen Space, expects three space stations in orbit by 2025: the International Space Station, the Chinese Station and the beginnings of a commercial.
& # 39; & # 39; We will continue to have raging debates about the future of the International Space Station, "he said.
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