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That inflatable space motel in full. Pic: Bigelow AerospaceA Las Vegas hotelier is to test two one-third scale versions of an inflatable space motel, New Scientist reports.

Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace has secured space aboard two Russian Dnepr rockets (converted ICBMs otherwise known as SS-18s) for his prototype low-Earth orbit habitats - dubbed "Genesis".

The project is based on a scrapped NASA design dubbed "TransHab". The full-fat version offers 330 cubic metres of flying hotel, protected from space debris attack by a "30-centimetre-thick multilayered polymer and Kevlar hull".

The whole thing apparently opens like a concertina when deployed, and it's this vital process which is the focus of the tests, as Bigelow's Mike Gold explained: "There has never been a system like this in microgravity and we need to know if it will work."

The two structures will, all being well, orbit for several years to allow full testing and evaluation.

Rather marvellously, the dates of the launches cannot be released "because the use of an ICBM means the information falls under US arms trade restrictions". ®

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