Science

Inflatable space station touted in Canada

A Las Vegas company that's been developing an inflatable space station is trying to entice Canadian astronauts to hop aboard.

A Las Vegas company that's been developing an inflatable space station is trying to entice Canadian astronauts to hop aboard.

Bigelow Aerospace says it's working on a commercial space complex that will have the strength of a Kevlar bulletproof vest.

A company representative was in Ottawa last weekend, delivering a keynote speech and lobbying officials at the annual summit of the Canadian Space Society.

Mike Gold, a Bigelow director, called it his first attempt to reach out to the Canadian government and the space industry. He argued that the facility will offer countries a cheaper way into space within five years.

In an email Tuesday, the CSA's director of space exploration, Gilles Leclerc, said that the agency is not involved, "in any way," in the Bigelow project.

But Gold expresses optimism.

"I don't know how much I can say, but let me say if there wasn't the interest in Canada, I wouldn't be here," he said.

"We're certainly talking to some Canadian officials and we're excited where this can take us."

The Canadian Space Agency sent several delegates to the Ottawa summit, including a senior research scientist and one of its policy advisers responsible for liaising with government officials at Industry Canada.

Prototypes in orbit

The Las Vegas firm already has two prototype space-station modules in orbit — Genesis I and Genesis II.

They blasted off in 2006 and 2007 from the Yasny Cosmodrome, a strategic missile military base in Russia which is home to the Kosmotras aerospace company.

Gold says Canada is exactly the sort of customer Bigelow is looking for as the entire industry works to fill the void that will be created once the U.S. space shuttles stop flying in 2011.

"With the retirement of the space shuttle it will become more difficult for countries like Canada to sustain an astronaut corps," he said.

"The private sector and private revolution that's happening in America can not only guarantee Canada a future in terms of human astronautics, but one that's much brighter and more inexpensive than is currently available."

Full-scale model to launch in 2014

The Nevada space company is currently working on Sundancer, its first full-scale module, which is scheduled for launch and orbit in 2014.

Gold says astronauts could be lifted up to the Bigelow space station in a crew transport vehicle that's being built by Boeing.

The Boeing CST-100 spacecraft may be ready for its first commercial space flight by 2015.

"Right now NASA is paying roughly $56 million per seat [on the shuttle]. . . I can tell you the Boeing system will dramatically reduce that cost as well."

The Russians have also indicated they want to build a commercial space station.

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