Hotel billionaire Robert Bigelow is about to launch a new spaceflight company

  • Hotel chain mogul Robert Bigelow is announcing a new company on Tuesday.
  • The new spaceflight venture is called Bigelow Space Operations, but few details are known about it yet.
  • Robert Bigelow is working with NASA on augmenting the International Space Station, and also plans to launch hotels into orbit for adventurous tourists.

Robert Bigelow, who made billions forming the hotel chain Budget Suites of America, is gearing up to launch a new spaceflight company called Bigelow Space Operations.

Bigelow, age 72, already owns Bigelow Aerospace, which he founded in 1999. That company built an inflatable room, called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), for NASA to attach to the International Space Station. BEAM launched into orbit and was fully deployed in 2016. Bigelow Aerospace has also reportedly helped conduct research on UFO sightings for a secretive Pentagon program.

Bigelow space operations website imageBigelow Space began showing this image around February 8, 2018. It shows two B330 inflatable habitats (top left) and an XBASE module attached to the International Space Station (bottom-right).

The hotel mogul now plans “to announce the creation of a new company: Bigelow Space Operations” on Tuesday, according to an email sent to Business Insider.

Bigelow Aerospace representatives did not immediately respond to further questions about the announcement.

However, according to a recent tweet from Bigelow Aerospace, the new venture may have more to do with finding new uses for the spacecraft that company has already been developing.

“Commercial space is not just about hardware, it’s about doing business differently. Bigelow Aerospace is ready to lead that charge,” the tweet said, sharing an image and a link to the website

What Bigelow Space Operations might do as a company

Bigelow space stationFacebook/Bigelow AerospaceAn illustration of two Bigelow B330 space stations docked together

The purpose and goals of Bigelow’s latest venture are under wraps for now, but the company is launching at an unprecedented moment for the space industry.

Over the years, NASA has handed over some control of space and astronaut research time on its space station to commercial companies. President Donald Trump has called for further privatization of the space station and proposed slashing the agency’s funding to an all-time low. Trump has also suggested that NASA pull out of the global program three years early in 2025.

Meanwhile, the cost of access to space is getting cheaper with the advent of new rocket systems.

Lead among them is SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, which is now the most powerful operational launcher in the world following its successful test. The price of a launch on that system undercuts the competition four-fold.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is also gearing up to test-launch his own reusable New Glenn rockets in a couple of years, and the United Launch Alliance (a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin) is working toward a reusable Vulcan rocket in the 2020s.

Bigelow Aerospace currently has an agreement partnership with ULA to launch its spacecraft, though it launched BEAM on a Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX.

Bigelow aerospaceFacebook/Bigelow AerospaceA cutaway illustration of a Bigelow B330 space station.

Bigelow is working on several follow-ups to BEAM, including a larger inflatable spacecraft called the B330. Although that one’s designed for space tourists, Bigelow Aerospace also has an agreement with NASA to develop a similar module for attachment to the space station, called Expandable Bigelow Advanced Station Enhancement (or XBASE).

It’s possible the “space operations” wording in the company name has to do with this work, or perhaps projects related to space tourism.

When private citizens buy multi-million-dollar tickets to space, it’s usually for a trip aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the space station. In such cases, they coordinate their trip and training program through an intermediary company like Space Adventures. Bigelow Space Operations might be a way to connect Bigelow Aerospace’s hardware-focused business with a client-facing operation that would aim to fill future space hotels with paying customers.

We’ll be tuning in to Bigelow’s announcement on Tuesday to find out.

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