Bigelow’s Balloon

Commercial spaceflight took a big leap forward recently. You might even say it sent up a test balloon, in the form of Robert Bigelow’s inflatable spacecraft.

Bigelow

An experimental inflatable spacecraft bankrolled by real estate magnate Robert Bigelow rocketed into orbit Wednesday to test technology that could be used to fulfill his dream of building a commercial space station.

The Genesis I satellite flew aboard a converted Cold War ballistic missile from Russia’s southern ro Mountains at 6:53 p.m. Moscow time. It was boosted about 320 miles above Earth minutes after launch, according to the Russian Strategic Missile Forces.

The launch was a first for the startup Bigelow Aerospace, founded by Bigelow, who owns the Budget Suites of America hotel chain. Bigelow is among several entrepreneurs attempting to break into the fledgling manned commercial spaceflight business.

Bigelow’s balloon was bankrolled to the tune of about $75 million, out of about $500 million dedicated to having an entire fleet of similar modules circling the earth like sausage links. Mars Blog notes that, even allowing for unexpected costs adding up to $3 billion or more, private entrepreneurs might actually be able to get to the point of having manned spacecraft servicing manned space stations faster and cheaper than, say, NASA.

That’s interesting, given that Bigelow’s balloon could lead to hotels and sports arenas in space by 2015, if all goes according to plan. With the price tag for building ’em, though, I can only imagine what the ticket price will be.

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