07 Apr Meet the latest multimillionaire with an out-of-this-world idea for space
The class of wealthy entrepreneurs who have turned their childhood space passions into emerging companies has been dominated by some of the biggest names in technology and business–Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Paul Allen. But now another wealthy, if lesser known, entrepreneur is about to join them on the public stage, unveiling his plans for how humans will finally spread out into the stars to stay.
On Friday, Robert Bigelow, who made millions with his extended stay hotels, is planning to send his expandable space habitat to the International Station. Once in orbit, the module will be attached to the station, inflated and then tested over a two-year period to see how it fares against the harsh environment of space. From time to time, the astronauts aboard the station will venture into the bedroom-sized pod–the first ever expandable habitat to be attached to the station, to take measurements.
Called the BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, is made of a kevlar-like material that expands in space once it is filled with air. Bigelow, the founder of Budget Suites of America, said he had invested $290 million of his fortune into Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace, which has been working to develop the technology for years.
The habitat is scheduled to be flown to the station by SpaceX, founded by Musk, one of the leaders of what’s often called the New Space movement–innovative ventures hoping to democratize space the way commercial aviation has.
“We’re hoping this gets us a foot in the door,” Bigelow said in an interview this week.
The BEAM is a first step for expandable manned habitats, but the company has already developed another line, the B330, which is 20 times as big that it hopes to also test out on the space station in preparation for flying them by 2020, Bigelow said.