Whatever Happened to Bigelow’s Space Hotels?

Image (Credit): Artist’s rending of Bigelow’s orbiting inflatable hotels. (Bigelow Space Operations)

Do you remember all of the talk about inflatable space hotels? Back in 2018, the U.S. space company Bigelow stated these expandable space station components would be launched by 2021:

With the two launches of B330-1 and B330-2 expected in 2021, the time is now in 2018 to begin BSO activity. These single structures that house humans on a permanent basis will be the largest, most complex structures ever known as stations for human use in space.

Created in 1998, Bigelow licensed the expandable component idea from NASA in 2000 and tried to make it commercially viable. Originally called the TransHab, NASA had developed the idea as a new component for the International Space Station (ISS).  Bigelow eventually sold the idea back to NASA as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which was successfully attached to the ISS in 2016. While NASA originally planned to jettison the BEAM from the ISS after two-years of testing and validation, it remained a part of the ISS.

Bigelow saw possibilities for a lunar depot or base, while NASA saw the BEAM as a model for cargo trips to Mars:

The journey to Mars is complex and filled with challenges that NASA and its partners are continuously working to solve. Before sending the first astronauts to the Red Planet, several rockets filled with cargo and supplies will be deployed to await the crews’ arrival. Expandable modules, which are lower-mass and lower-volume systems than metal habitats, can increase the efficiency of cargo shipments, possibly reducing the number of launches needed and overall mission costs.

So after this success with the ISS and ideas for the future, where is Bigelow today? In March 2020, as COVID hit, the company laid off all of its employees and has yet to return to business. That does not mean this idea of expandable components disappears with the company, but it may need a new champion if it is to be part of the future space program.

Maybe Mr. Musk is looking for something to buy as part of his future Martian mission.

Image (Credit): NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik looks through the hatch of the International Space Station’s Bigelow Expandable Aerospace Module (BEAM) on July 31, 2017. (NASA, Randy Bresnik)

Canada Wants its Own Space Force

Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

It was only a matter of time. Canada wants to develop its own version of the US Space Force later this year. According to media reports, the Canadian Space Division would eventually employ about 270 people, versus about 16,000 in the US program.

The two nations are not alone. A quick check on Wikipedia shows space forces in numerous countries, from Italy to Peru, though the definition of “space force” is pretty wide.

Even with their growth, not everyone is a fan. The Cato Institute had this to say in its 2020 report, Space Force: Ahead of Its Time, or Dreadfully Premature?:

This investigation determines that the Space Force’s establishment is hobbled by unclear goals and uncertain effects, contending that the Space Force lacks a clearly defined organizational culture and a clear strategic purpose, both core elements of organizational success, and that the decision to create the service is premature at best and irresponsible at worst.

Not a ringing endorsement, but maybe a sign that some more thinking needs to go into the role of these new organizations. Yet just as the air force was a natural break away from the army, the space force is a natural offspring of the air force. What comes after that? Maybe a Lunar Force or a Martian Force when we start to occupy space. I would love to see those recruitment videos.

Image (Credit): Image from a US Space Force recruitment video. (USSF)