22 thoughts on “Bigelow”

  1. Was there anything particularly proprietary to their technology that another player could not pick up down the road?

    I could (almost) see a Boeing/ULA buyout of the company if there was any value add for them. But I kinda doubt it.

    I suspect SpaceX plans to play with steel for the time being. Bigelow tech might be an unnecessary distraction for them right now.

      1. Not necessarily. Starship would be ideal for delivery of B2100 or even larger expandable habs to orbit should Bigelow ever find a customer for such or elect to launch one or more on its own.

        But, should SpaceX ever essay its own version of a LEO hab, it would likely design its own modules and build them itself, whether out of stainless or something else. I suspect SpaceX would want to build a lot of hab modules in a hurry should it go this route and I don’t get the impression Bigelow is really set up for mass production

        What I think Starship does render obsolete, anent Earth orbit habs, is small ones with small crews. Starship is far better suited to the economical building, and subsequent servicing, of much larger habs than ISS or the comparatively dinky stations spitballed by Bigelow, Axiom, etc.

        1. It is a little troubling that Bigelow said $500+ million wasn’t enough. Musk says he can pop out Starships at $5 million a pop. What would it cost SpaceX, or anyone else, to build their own habs?

      2. Agreed, expandables have their own pros and cons, and the cons undermine it when in competition with metal shells using large inexpensive launch, so long as the metal version can do the job.

        Expandability might make sense for other reasons down the line, but in the opinion of a former employee, Bigelow missed the niche, big time.

    1. A buyout presupposes that Bigelow Aerospace is circling the drain. I don’t think its current circumstances warrant making that assumption. But, for the sake of argument, suppose that to be true.

      Anent possible buyers, Boeing would seem an unlikely possibility as it has no launch capability apart from its half stake in ULA. It also has considerable problems, including financial ones, of its own and no prospect that most will be put behind as quickly as the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to be.

      ULA would make more sense, but isn’t an independent actor anent possible acquisitions as it has two corporate parents it has to get approvals from.

      SpaceX is using steel for SHS because both parts of that craft have to survive repeated re-entries from orbit. Space station hab modules have no such requirement. If SpaceX ever makes its own foray into LEO habs, I expect it to take the same sort of clean-sheet-of-paper approach it did with SHS. Maybe the result would be somewhat Bigelow-ish and maybe it would exhibit no such resemblance whatever. SpaceX has, to say the least, a history of unconventional and idiosyncratic design work.

      1. A lot going on in that article: “The spokesperson added that the company planned to hire workers back once the emergency directive was lifted, although other sources interpreted the layoffs as a permanent measure.”

        I have no idea what BEAM cost, but it also says “NASA, at the time of the competition, said it projected providing up to $561 million to support both a commercial ISS module as well as a separate solicitation for a free-flying facility. “That was asking just too much” of the company, Bigelow said. “So we told NASA we had to bow out.””

  2. Sierra Nevada has their own version.

    I suspect they took advantage of Bigelow’s frequently laid-off engineers who sought more steady employment in exchange.

    Bigelow has always laid people off in a dime. Great for the quarterly balance sheet but sucks for retaining top talent. I suspect others will bear fruit from the seeds Bigelow has sewn.

    1. Interesting. Does SN still plan on putting an uncrewed Dream Catcher atop an Atlas-5? What about the Vulcan?

      1. That’s Dream Chaser. The current plan seems to be to skip Atlas V and go directly to Vulcan. SNC has already reserved the second test launch of Vulcan for its first Cargo Dream Chaser.

        ULA got payloads for its first two Vulcan launches – which it needs to fly in order to obtain USAF/Space Force certification – by offering give-away pricing. Whether SNC will continue to use Vulcan for subsequent Cargo Dream Chaser launches is unknown at this time.

    2. Given that Bigelow Aerospace is privately held and, so far as I know, has no investors other than Robert Bigelow, I think past layoffs, as well as the present one, have been done for reasons other than trying to dress up the quarterly financials.

  3. Falcon Heavy has been available for a few years now. He has had no excuse to not put something up, at least as far as having a capable launch vehicle.

    The promise of such huge habitable volumes is indeed tantalizing. I hope they will make something happen down the line.

    1. The “excuse” – or, more properly, reason for not yet putting something up was/is lack of crew transfer capability. That still applies – and will until commercial crew flights to ISS begin.

  4. Bigelow has done this at least once before and without the excuse of government emergency mandates. It came back from that misadventure so I figure the odds are at least fair it will do the same this time.

    1. This time, everyone of technical consequence was laid off. As far as I know it’s unprecedented, and seems permanent. It was always an unstable place to work, with people both being let go or leaving of their own accord constantly. FYI, public reasons for layoffs rarely matched what was understood internally.

  5. For a second there Rand I thought you were saying that Robert Bigelow personally was a casualty of the Coronavirus; relieved to hear only his company mothballed (hopefully temporarily). He (Bigelow) as an aside is apparently a big believer in UFO’s; I wonder privately whether Musk is as well.

  6. What’s the status on the TransHab IP? How much longer does Bigelow’s patent last?

    I suspect that Elon will decide that it’s faster just to make 8m rings instead of 9m and build any station modules he wants out of that. That said, what kind of volume could you get out of an expandable module designed around the cargo Starship’s payload bay? How many such modules would it take to make a proper rotating station that could study gravity effects and perform manufacturing steps at different Gs?

  7. Would it be possible to build an expandable space habitat, that can house 60, to 2,000, or more people? How about a community sized expandable located inside a lunar lavatube?

  8. An inflatable Transhab-like thingy would make a good “liner” for a crewed, long-range Starship. There’s enough volume for three B330s, minus the solar panels and propulsion hardware, though they’re the wrong shape. The original Transhab would be a better fit. You could slide two in before putting on the nosecone, inflate them and kit them out, leaving a lower deck space below them for cargo, airlocks, etc. Made of the right materials, they would provide good radition protection, and ECLSS is built into each Transhab (or B330ish thing). The loose supplies would be inside the 600+ cubic meters of the habs, leaving another 3-4 hundred for airlocks to the outside, rovers, big stuff, whatever. It’s probably the easiest, quickest solution, with much of the preliminary development work already done.

  9. I think their biggest problem is that they are the solution to a problem that won’t exist in s few years. 9M Starships largely eliminate the problem of volume while allowing the space to be outfitted on the ground.

    Like a lot of good ideas, they are either a few years too late or too early, even for someone with deep pockets.

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