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Tycoon to offer $760m for affordable orbital launch

Bubble-baron Bigelow buys ballistic-balloon boost

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Vegas property tycoon Robert Bigelow has always been aware of the main problem besetting his plan to sell cheap inflatable space habitats in orbit - he can build them, but no one can afford to come.

The problem isn't so much with the blow-up space stations. Compared to massive rigid jobs like the International Space Station, Bigelow's bubble habitats are lightweight and economical. Once launched they can stay up for a long time, at least theoretically, earning Bigelow lots of cash.

But the balloon-buildings have no purpose other than to sustain human life. And humans need to come down to earth fairly frequently. Again, not an insuperable problem; but what comes down often has to go up often, and boosting things up into orbit on a frequent basis is, at the moment, horrifyingly expensive.

With the inflata-realty programme going well - there are already two test habitats in space, and a factory for human-rated production models is to open soon - Bigelow Aerospace is in danger of getting ahead of its time.

So now Bigelow has decided to finance the transport as well as the destination. He says he's willing to offer a $760m deal for eight launches to any company which can meet his criteria, which he will publish within weeks.

"We could find ourselves with a nice new facility, a number of modules on the floor ready to launch, and nowhere in sight is an affordable or even existing transportation vehicle – a capsule and a lifting vehicle that makes economic sense," he told New Scientist last week.

"We're going to offer a contract – to whomever – where we will state how much we're willing to pay per seat or per launch," he said.

Watch this, erm... space. ®

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