Bigelow Aerospace to launch habitable spacecraft as soon as possible

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Commercial space complex entrepreneur Robert Bigelow announced on 13 August that his company would launch a habitable spacecraft called Sundancer as soon as possible, following the successful deployment of its two subscale-demonstrator Genesis vehicles in July 2006 and June this year.

Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Aerospace, has used NASA-developed inflatable technology to create an orbital module design that can be launched by an existing rocket and then inflate to many times its original dimensions to become habitable.

The company has not announced when Sundancer will be launched, but the original plan was for an orbital complex to be in place by 2012. Bigelow announced his business plan for the commercial use of his orbital complexes in April this year.

The decision to accelerate the company's plans are a combination of the success of the Genesis spacecraft and what the company claims are rising launch costs worldwide, in particular in Russia. For its two demonstrator vehicles Bigelow used Russian Dnepr rockets.

Bigelow says that the price increases are due to inflation, previously artificially low launch costs and the falling value of the US dollar, which means another demonstrator mission could cost up to three times more than the Genesis missions.

Bigelow says that because a high percentage of the systems that a third demonstrator - to have been called Galaxy - was meant to test "can be effectively validated on a terrestrial basis, the technical value of launching the spacecraft - particularly after the successful launch of both Genesis I and II - is somewhat marginal".

The company will now construct a habitable module called Galaxy to act as an iron bird, to test the systems needed for human habitation.

According to the commercial plans announced in April, Bigelow has yet to arrange a human-rated launch provider, procure a docking system, and employ qualified astronauts who will accompany clients on trips. With an accelerated timetable the only likely provider of human-rated launch vehicles with a proven docking system for Sundancer is Russia.

Flight became the first aerospace publisher to place an advert in space when its logo flew on Genesis II in June.