A Nevada company that once promoted plans for orbiting space hotels signed an agreement with Space Florida Wednesday to conduct launches at Cape Canaveral.
Bigelow Aerospace seeks to operate commercial space stations as part of NASA's commercial crew program. In a memorandum of understanding, the North Las Vegas firm announced it intends to launch its first Orbital Space Complex from the Cape in 2014.
The inflatable modules would be carried on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets.
In 2006 and 2007, Bigelow launched its Genesis I and Genesis II orbiting prototypes aboard Russian nuclear rockets from the old Soviet Union.
"It's a great story -- turning weapons of war into a tool for peace and commerce," Bigelow spokesman Mike Gold told Sunshine State News.
But Gold said the company would prefer to conduct future launches from the United States and bring jobs to Florida's Space Coast.
"We are hopeful for the commercial crew program," he said.
Signing the memorandum of understanding at the Radisson Resort at the Port in Cape Canaveral were Bigelow Aerospace founder and president Robert Bigelow, Space Florida president Frank DiBello and George Sowers, United Launch Alliance vice president of business development and advanced programs,
DiBello applauded the occasion, saying, "We see this as an industry we're growing. This is a brick we're putting in the wall."
Meantime, Bigelow is keeping its global options open, having also signed similar memorandums with space agencies in Japan, Australia, Singapore, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
By 2017, Bigelow projects a need for 20 to 25 launches per year to send crew and cargo to commercial space stations.
"Using our patented expandable habitats, our plan is to greatly exceed the usable space of the International Space Station at a fraction of the cost by developing our next generation spacecraft," the company stated on its website.
The commercial crew initiative, promoted by the Obama administration and NASA, appears to have pushed Bigelow's space hotel venture to the back burner.
Bigelow garnered headlines in 2007 when it unveiled plans for an orbiting hotel that would accommodate space-faring guests at a price of $4 million per person.
As envisioned by Bigelow, the space hotel would start out as a single pod capable of holding four guests and two pilots.
Press reports at the time said space customers would spend three nights in their orbital pod room after undergoing an eight-week training course set on a tropical island.
But since the initial burst of publicity, talk of a 2012 launch of the "Galactic Suite Space Resort" has muted, and Bigelow has turned his sights to other commercial space ventures.
With a nod to his firm's Nevada headquarters, Bigelow's president said the Cape Canaveral connection will boost his company's space cred.
"It's more realistic to come to a launch facility than a gambling facility," he noted.
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