Billionaire Robert Bigelow has signed an agreement with aerospace company Lockheed Martin with the intention of launching a public-private sector space station into orbit between 2009 and 2012.
The space development company Bigelow Aerospace, which is located in Las Vegas, US, plans to provide a low-cost space complex that will be accessible to groups such as orbital hotel operators for commercial activities.
The Lockheed Martin agreement will pursue the technological potential of launching passengers on human-qualified Atlas V rockets to the Bigelow-built space complex, which will be assembled from expandable modules.
Bigelow’s first launch of a prototype expandable module, Genesis I, took place on 12 July atop a Dnepr rocket from Russia, and was a success.
The new model, codenamed Sundancer, could reportedly provide an orbital destination for up to three people.
By 2012, Bigelow also plans to launch an inflatable module twice the size of Sundancer that could potentially create a five-bedroom facility in orbit, able to accommodate up to nine people.
Bigelow Aerospace president, Robert Bigelow, said: “We need to encourage creativity, imagination and innovation in order to bring the benefits of space development to fruition, not just for the privileged few, but for all of humanity.”
Bigelow Aerospace’s corporate counsel Mike Gold added: “Prohibitive costs have kept the private sector out of space and relegated true space development to the status of an unfulfilled dream. Our over-arching goal is to radically reduce these costs, thereby opening the frontier of space to everyone.” Details: www.bigelowaerospace.com
Photograph: An image taken from Genesis I, which is currently in orbit