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Surprising Science

Company Plans First-Ever Commercial Space Station

Today’s announcement of NASA’s deal with Bigelow Aerospace for the addition of an inflatable module to the International Space Station hints at the company’s future goals.

What’s the Latest Development?

Today’s announcement that NASA would work with Bigelow Aerospace to add an inflatable room — the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) — to the International Space Station (ISS) is a step towards the Nevada-based company’s goal of launching what they’re calling the world’s first commercial space station. Alpha Station would consist of two modules that are similar to BEAM but much larger; a single module would provide 330 cubic meters of space for a crew of up to six. The modules are scheduled to be ready by the end of 2016; no date has been specified for their actual launch.

What’s the Big Idea?

Bigelow Aerospace is open to working with governments, businesses, and even individuals as it continues to compete in the private space race. Its pricing list for various services involving Alpha Station includes astronaut flight costs of between $26 million and $37 million and lease costs of $25 million for the use of 110 cubic meters (an amount of room equal to a single ISS module) over a two-month period. A company document states that these costs would make human spaceflight particularly attractive to countries with little or no experience in the field: “[They] represent a sea change from historic aerospace pricing.”

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