A “Disney” Inflatable Space Module Hotel Could be the First-Look of the Real Commercialized Space
With a “democratizing” and commercialization of space on the minds, wallets, and missions of many, what is it exactly that can we anticipate from easier accessed, more affordable, and timely launches into Low Earth Orbit (LEO)?
Comfortable and more sustainable stays.
At least that was part of the excitement during yesterday’s first-ever habitat & launch provider partnership announcement between United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Bigelow Aerospace at the 32th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. Bigelow is designing a plug-in play inflatable module — or a blow up space tent that will connect, inflate, and pressurize aboard the ISS (in simple terms and for the time being). Tory Bruno, CEO of ULA, described the time as “historic” and that this [partnership] can “greatly expand the opportunities for research for manufacturing, and yes, for space tourism.”
Hotel billionaire, and CEO of Bigelow Aerospace, Robert Bigelow, expressed that he would love to see a “Disney space station” when discussing naming and branding rights around the B330 commercial space modules, explaining that,“It’s the same concept if you were doing a university naming of lecture halls, the wings of a building, or the building itself. That’s a universal way of raising money and acknowledging people and so on…we would love to see Disney have a Disney Space Station. Wouldn’t that be cool?”
This is a big way of how to envision what the future of space life and tourism could look like. However something that takes us back to the immediate time and date of: the now, are the trials, testing and experimentation with these expandable habitats that will take place over the next couple of years so that humans can safely operate and live in space. Both executives gave a timeline estimate of 2020.
In this tremendous R&D and potential to dominate the market effort, Bigelow has created BEAMs — or Bigelow Expandable Activity Modules — which we saw making contact with ISS aboard the SpaceX’s Dragon earlier this month. Perhaps down the line, these ports could very well be the “time shares” and opportunities for naming and branding to which both Bruno and Bigelow mentioned and referenced Disney.
By being able to build a sustainable and safe housing/recreational facilities in space, we can then start to transfer some of the excitement of launch and housing capabilities toward training and moving populations of Earthkind into these environments in space, thus opening up more opportunities for research labs, manufacturing facilities, and beyond. BEAM and B330 modules make the prospects of a growing space workforce actually feel like something real and something very human. But, physics and feats in engineering aren’t the only cool aspects to this innovation.
So as we endeavor to expand human experience beyond Earth to assist in making life on our planet more sustained and better to then go beyond and explore farther, what can partnerships such as this one do to give back, educate, and train for life, work, and travel in space?
Mr. Bigelow explored the idea of an associate astronaut program — reminiscent to the Space Camp we knew as kids — that would be a partnership opportunity to join forces with an affiliate and train the next class of inspired students and young adults to become astronauts and service professionals in space. Bigelow continued to ideate around a yearly selection process from graduates or attendees classes who would get to go on-board but be held to crew responsibilities and obligations.
Mr. Bruno felt strongly that the big picture needed to be felt and that “this partnership is allowing humanity to step off of this planet in a sustained and a permanent way.” He noted that giving back could be engagement with STEM and that selective free ride shares could be considered in addition to their standard priced offerings. But something that he wanted to make clear was that, “you cannot think that we’re more important [than the progress in space habitat and launch being done]…it is impactful [progress] and we are giving to humanity that way.”
So does that mean that this highway to living in space could bend to the idea a noisy and heavily branded space once the habitats are tried, tested and true?
The excitement surrounding the partnership was clear, but the exact vision was not. Additional terms for the partnership were not expanded upon as the overall concept and picture we concluded as being a “work in progress,” and that they have “a lot of work ahead” [of them].
So for now, I’ll wait for a call from ULA + Bigelow to help design the AAP, and ride the excitement of this month’s two private editions to the ISS and really dig into the aspects of the future with the news of this partnership making space habitation a possibility. But even more exciting than that is truly identifying with Matt Damon’s character in The Martian in that I too could be transported to a new destination, and “certainly populate other destinations in addition to the ISS”.