Like Steve Jobs with Xerox, private Aerospace corporations are taking the technology developed by a brilliant-but-stagnant organizations and running with it.
Working with the Russians, using NASA-developed technology, a corporation called Bigelow Aerospace launched Genesis I in 2006. It is the:
first expandable space habitat technology on orbit.
first spacecraft produced by Bigelow Aerospace.
first commercial launch ever to take place at the ISC Kosmotras Space and Missile Complex near Yasny.
[which] likely represented the lowest-cost mission of its kind in the history of aerospace, including spacecraft fabrication and the launch itself.
More on Bigelow’s future plans via MSNBC:
Even as Bigelow Aerospace gears up for launching its second prototype space station into orbit, the company has set its sights on something much, much bigger: a project to assemble full-blown space villages at a work site between Earth and the moon, then drop them to the lunar surface, ready for immediate move-in.
In an exclusive interview this week, Las Vegas billionaire Robert Bigelow confirmed that his company has been talking about the concept with NASA – and that the first earthly tests of the techniques involved would take place later this year. The scenario he sketched out would essentially make Bigelow a general contractor for the final frontier…
Getting all that right is “Job One,” Bigelow told me. But by 2012, the focus could start shifting from low Earth orbit, or LEO, farther out into space. One of the key places in Bigelow’s plan is a point about 200,000 miles (323,000 kilometers) out from Earth in the moon’s direction, where the pulls of terrestrial and lunar gravity balance each other.
Bigelow would turn that region of space, called L1, into a construction zone. Inflatable modules would be linked up with propulsion/power systems and support structures, and then the completed base would be lowered down to the moon’s surface, all in one piece.
Once the moon base has been set down, dirt would be piled on top, using a technique that Bigelow plans to start testing later this year at his Las Vegas headquarters. The moon dirt, more technically known as regolith, would serve to shield the base’s occupants from the harsh radiation hitting the lunar surface.
Bigelow is not alone in thinking about ways to do all this. In fact, Bigelow Aerospace arranged the interview in response to last month’s story about NASA’s plans for building infrastructure on the moon after 2020. At the time, NASA’s Larry Toups had mentioned that the space agency was discussing its options with Bigelow as well as other aerospace companies, such as ILC Dover (which has its own inflatable-module project), Lockheed Martin and the Boeing Co.
Bigelow’s latest comments bring the concept of inflatable modules full circle. NASA pioneered the technology for space habitats that could be folded up into a small space for launch, then inflated with pressurized gas after their deployment. Bigelow licensed the technology, known as the Transhab system, for his own private-sector space program – and is now working with the space agency to adapt the system for its original purpose.