Space station developer to offer custom modules

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One-off units planned to attract government and corporate clients to orbital complex

Commercial space-station developer Bigelow Aerospace is ready to outfit its modules in orbit with customised interiors and one-off experiment boxes as part of its plan to provide an orbital complex for government and corporate clients from 2012.

Bigelow's complex will consist of inflatable modules based on technologies tested with its Genesis spacecraft. Genesis I was launched successfully in July last year and the more advanced Genesis II is expected to lift off later this month. Both are 2.54m (8.3ft) in diameter when inflated.

The future modules, known as Sundancer and BA 330, once docked together, will be available to lease for $88 million a year, or $7.9 million a month. The modules will be fitted with what Bigelow calls "generic hardware" and specialist laboratory-class furnaces.

"It's for [government clients] to use the module's volume. We may have to customise the interior - it will depend on how unique they want to make them. We can certainly facilitate construction of [experiment] boxes," said company founder Robert Bigelow at the Space Foundation's 23rd National Space Symposium las week in Colorado Springs.

Bigelow said his company would be best placed to design and fabricate laboratory systems that must integrate with the module's power supply and other consumables. The cost of transporting this outfitting hardware to orbit would be in addition to the lease price, he added.

However, the module's docking system will place constraints on hardware design. The NASA-developed low-impact docking system that Bigelow will use has an aperture diameter of 812mm (32in), which will impose a limit on the dimensions of any laboratory hardware.