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posted by martyb on Tuesday March 24 2020, @05:49PM   Printer-friendly
from the future-is-up-in-the-air dept.

Bigelow Aerospace lays off entire workforce

Bigelow Aerospace, the company founded more than two decades ago to develop commercial space habitats, laid off all its employees March 23 in a move caused at least in part by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to sources familiar with the company's activities, Bigelow Aerospace's 68 employees were informed that they were being laid off, effective immediately. An additional 20 employees were laid off the previous week.

Those sources said that the company, based in North Las Vegas, Nevada, was halting operations because of what one person described as a "perfect storm of problems" that included the coronavirus pandemic. On March 20, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed an emergency directive ordering all "nonessential" businesses to close.

[...] Robert Bigelow said in a Jan. 28 interview that his company declined to submit a proposal [for an ISS commercial module] to NASA because of financing concerns. NASA, at the time of the competition, said it projected providing up to $561 million to support both a commercial ISS module as well as a separate solicitation for a free-flying facility. "That was asking just too much" of the company, Bigelow said. "So we told NASA we had to bow out."

Bigelow Expandable Activity Module to Continue Stay at the International Space Station
Bigelow and ULA to Put Inflatable Module in Orbit Around the Moon by 2022
Bigelow Aerospace Forms New Company to Manage Space Stations, Announces Gigantic Inflatable Module
Bigelow Aerospace Unveils B330 Inflatable Module Mock-Up

Sierra Nevada Corporation Shows Off an Inflatable Habitat
Expanding, And Eventually Replacing, The International Space Station

Original Submission

Related Stories

Bigelow Expandable Activity Module to Continue Stay at the International Space Station 7 comments

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, an experimental inflatable habitat/room attached to the International Space Station, will continue to be used for storage and radiation testing in the near future rather than being jettisoned to burn in Earth's atmosphere:

In a procurement filing, NASA said it was planning to issue a sole-source contract to Bigelow Aerospace in the first quarter of fiscal year 2018 for engineering and other services related to extended use of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM). The planned contract, whose value was not disclosed, will cover three years with two additional one-year options.

BEAM was launched to the ISS in April 2016 and, a month and a half later, attached to the station and expanded to its full size. NASA planned to keep BEAM at the station for two years in order to perform engineering tests about the suitability of such expandable, or inflatable, modules for future use on the station or other missions. At the end of the two-year period, NASA planned to jettison BEAM and allow it to destructively reenter the atmosphere.

NASA now sees BEAM, in additional to an engineering testbed, as a place for additional storage on the ISS. "BEAM continues to demonstrate positive performance in space and initial studies have shown that it can be used long-term on the ISS to support the government's needs for on-orbit stowage and for technology demonstrations," the agency said in its procurement filing.

The agency expects to use BEAM to store more than 100 Cargo Transfer Bags, a standard unit of cargo storage on the station that measures about half a cubic meter. That will free up the equivalent of about four payload racks in other modules of the station for research. NASA will also continue to study the module's effectiveness for radiation and debris shielding.

Also at Ars Technica.

Original Submission

Bigelow and ULA to Put Inflatable Module in Orbit Around the Moon by 2022 16 comments

In a move intended to align with the National Space Council's call for NASA to return to the Moon, the United Launch Alliance intends to launch a Bigelow Aerospace B330 inflatable module into low Earth orbit, and later boost it into lunar orbit using a rocket which can have propellant transferred to it from another rocket:

Bigelow Aerospace, a company devoted to manufacturing inflatable space habitats, says it's planning to put one of its modules into orbit around the Moon within the next five years. The module going to lunar space will be the B330, Bigelow's design concept for a standalone habitat that can function autonomously as a commercial space station. The plan is for the B330 to serve as something of a lunar depot, where private companies can test out new technologies, or where astronauts can stay to undergo training for deep space missions.

"Our lunar depot plan is a strong complement to other plans intended to eventually put people on Mars," Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace, said in a statement. "It will provide NASA and America with an exciting and financially practical success opportunity that can be accomplished in the short term."

To put the habitat in lunar orbit, Bigelow is looking to get a boost from the United Launch Alliance. The B330 is slated to launch on top of ULA's future rocket, the Vulcan, which is supposed to begin missions no earlier than 2019. The plan is for the Vulcan to loft the B330 into lower Earth orbit, where it will stay for one year to demonstrate that it works properly in space. During that time, Bigelow hopes to send supplies to the station and rotate crew members in and out every few months.

After that, it'll be time to send the module to the Moon. ULA will launch two more Vulcan rockets, leaving both of the vehicles' upper stages in orbit. Called ACES, for Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage, these stages can remain in space, propelling other spacecraft to farther out destinations. ULA plans to transfer all of the propellant from one ACES to the other, using the fully fueled stage to propel the B330 the rest of the way to lunar orbit.

The B330 is the giant version of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module.

Previously: Moon Base Could Cost Just $10 Billion Due to New Technologies
Should We Skip Mars for Now and Go to the Moon Again?
How to Get Back to the Moon in 4 Years, Permanently
Buzz Aldrin: Retire the ISS to Reach Mars
China to Send Potato Farming Test Probe to the Moon
Stephen Hawking Urges Nations to Pursue Lunar Base and Mars Landing
Lockheed Martin Repurposing Shuttle Cargo Module to Use for Lunar Orbiting Base (could they be joined together?)
ESA Expert Envisions "Moon Village" by 2030-2050
NASA and Roscosmos Sign Joint Statement on the Development of a Lunar Space Station
Bigelow Expandable Activity Module to Continue Stay at the International Space Station

Original Submission

Bigelow Aerospace Forms New Company to Manage Space Stations, Announces Gigantic Inflatable Module 26 comments

Bigelow Aerospace has created a spinoff company that will manage its orbital space stations, and has announced plans for an inflatable module that would be even larger than the B330:

Bigelow Aerospace — the Las Vegas-based company manufacturing space habitats — is starting a spinoff venture aimed at managing any modules that the company deploys into space. Called Bigelow Space Operations (BSO), the new company will be responsible for selling Bigelow's habitats to customers, such as NASA, foreign countries, and other private companies. But first, BSO will try to figure out what kind of business exists exactly in lower Earth orbit, the area of space where the ISS currently resides.

Bigelow makes habitats designed to expand. The densely packed modules launch on a rocket and then inflate once in space, providing more overall volume for astronauts to roam around. The company already has one of its prototype habitats in orbit right now: the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, which has been attached to the International Space Station since 2016. The BEAM has proven that Bigelow's expandable habitat technology not only works, but also holds up well against the space environment.

Now, Bigelow is focusing on its next space station design: the B330. The habitat is so named since it will have 330 cubic meters (or nearly 12,000 cubic feet) of interior volume when expanded in space. That's about one-third the volume provided by the ISS. Bigelow hopes to launch two B330s as early as 2021, on top of the United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rockets, and the company even has plans to put a B330 around the Moon. After that, Bigelow has bigger plans to create a single station with 2.4 times the entire pressurized volume of the ISS, the company announced today. Such a huge station will need to be constructed in an entirely new manufacturing facility that Bigelow plans to build — though the company hasn't decided on a location yet.

Bigelow's BEAM is currently attached to the ISS and has a volume of about 16 cubic meters, which has been described as that of "a large closet with padded white walls". The B330 will have 330 cubic meters of pressurized volume. The newly proposed module is called the BA 2100, or "Olympus", with 2,250 cubic meters of volume, compared to the ISS's total 931 cubic meters. The mass of the BA 2100 could range from 65 to 100 metric tons, likely requiring a super-heavy launcher such as the SLS Block 1B/2 or SpaceX's BFR.

Also at Space News, Motherboard, and

Related: How to Get Back to the Moon in 4 Years, Permanently
Bigelow Expandable Activity Module to Continue Stay at the International Space Station
Bigelow and ULA to Put Inflatable Module in Orbit Around the Moon by 2022

Original Submission

Sierra Nevada Corporation Shows Off an Inflatable Habitat 11 comments

One could fly to Mars in this spacious habitat and not go crazy

On Wednesday, Sierra Nevada Corporation—the company that makes aerospace equipment, not beer—showed off its proposed in-space habitat for the first time. The inflatable habitat is, first and foremost, large. It measures more than 8 meters long, and with a diameter of 8 meters has an internal volume of 300 cubic meters, which is about one-third the size of the International Space Station.

Sierra Nevada developed this full-scale prototype under a NASA program that funded several companies to develop habitats that could be used for a space station in orbit around the Moon, as well as potentially serving as living quarters for a long-duration transit to and from Mars. As part of the program, NASA astronauts have, or will, spend three days living in and evaluating the prototypes built by Sierra Nevada, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Bigelow Aerospace.

The selling point for Sierra Nevada's habitat is its size, which is possible because the multi-layered fabric material can be compressed for launch, then expanded and outfitted as a habitat once in space. It can fit within a standard payload fairing used for launch vehicles such as SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket, United Launch Alliance's Vulcan booster, or NASA's Space Launch System. It is light enough for any of those rockets to launch to the Moon.

[...] What this habitat does not presently have is an exact purpose. Lindsey said the inflatable habitat, which has some similarities in technology to Bigelow's expandable module attached to the International Space Station, could be sized for any number of missions, from a low-Earth orbit space station to a habitat on the surface of the Moon or Mars.

Where is Bigelow's B330?

Related: Bigelow Expandable Activity Module to Continue Stay at the International Space Station
Bigelow Aerospace Forms New Company to Manage Space Stations, Announces Gigantic Inflatable Module

Original Submission

Bigelow Aerospace Unveils B330 Inflatable Module Mock-Up 15 comments

Bigelow Aerospace Unveils B330 Inflatable Module Mock-Up

Hotel mogul Robert Bigelow wants to take his idea to build inflatable space habitats and run with it — apparently, all the way to the moon and Mars.

On Thursday, the billionaire publicly unveiled Bigelow Aerospace's latest model of an expandable space station prototype, called the "Bigelow Mars Transporter Testing Unit." The mock-up has the volume of four 40-foot-long cargo containers and was built in part for NASA astronauts and engineers to try it out.

Bigelow's immediate goal is to convince NASA — which is testing prototypes made by four other companies— to fund a space-worthy unit, called the B330 (so named because it would have 330 cubic meters of volume). The work is in support of the space agency's $20-30 billion moon-landing program, called Artemis.

The 330 cubic meters of pressurized volume of the B330 compares favorably to the 351.6 m3 of Skylab (the US' first space station) and the 931.57 m3 of the ISS (International Space Station).

Original Submission

Expanding, And Eventually Replacing, The International Space Station 29 comments

Expanding, And Eventually Replacing, The International Space Station:

Aboard the International Space Station (ISS), humanity has managed to maintain an uninterrupted foothold in low Earth orbit for just shy of 20 years. There are people reading these words who have had the ISS orbiting overhead for their entire lives, the first generation born into a truly spacefaring civilization.

But as the saying goes, what goes up must eventually come down. The ISS is at too low of an altitude to remain in orbit indefinitely, and core modules of the structure are already operating years beyond their original design lifetimes. As difficult a decision as it might be for the countries involved, in the not too distant future the $150 billion orbiting outpost will have to be abandoned.

Naturally there's some debate as to how far off that day is. NASA officially plans to support the Station until at least 2024, and an extension to 2028 or 2030 is considered very likely. Political tensions have made it difficult to get a similar commitment out of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, but its expected they'll continue crewing and maintaining their segment as long as NASA does the same. Afterwards, it's possible Roscosmos will attempt to salvage some of their modules from the ISS so they can be used on a future station.

Original Submission

Richard Branson to Sell 22% Stake in Virgin Galactic 11 comments

Branson to sell part of Virgin Galactic stake

Richard Branson, the founder and largest shareholder of suborbital spaceflight company Virgin Galactic, will sell more than a fifth of Virgin Group's majority stake in the company to raise funds to aid its other companies affected by the pandemic.

In a statement May 11, the company announced that Vieco 10, the Virgin Group holding company that owns the majority of Virgin Galactic, planned to sell up to 25 million shares, accounting for about 22% of its overall stake in the company. That sale would generate $485 million for Virgin at the price of $19.40 per share at the close of trading May 11.

Virgin Group said the sale of stock, the company said in a statement and in its S-1 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), was "to support its portfolio of global leisure, holiday and travel businesses that have been affected by the unprecedented impact of COVID-19."

Related: Virgin Galactic Shows Off its Spaceport
Virgin Galactic Unveils Commercial Space Suits
Virgin Galactic Begins 'Astronaut Readiness Program' for First Paying Customers
Nevada-Based Bigelow Aerospace Lays Off Entire Workforce
OneWeb Goes Bankrupt, Lays Off Staff, Will Sell Satellite-Broadband Business
Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Flies from its New Home Base for the First Time

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 24 2020, @06:47PM (4 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 24 2020, @06:47PM (#975140)

    Typically "perfect storm" refers to multiple things that happen to occur at the same time resulting in an event that wouldn't normally have happened, or wouldn't have been as bad. All the article mentions is the covid-related closing and a reference to a proposal call that they didn't pursue. So what else was it? What makes up this storm?

    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Immerman on Tuesday March 24 2020, @07:27PM (1 child)

      by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday March 24 2020, @07:27PM (#975156)

      I'm curious as well, but it would seem they declined to make it public. The fact that they declined to submit an ISS proposal last year - on what would pretty much the only near-term contract they're likely to get - would seem to suggest that they've been facing ongoing financial and/or technological challenges since well before COVID was a concern. Given the admiral performance of BEAM to date, I would guess the technology itself is probably ready, though they may be having issues scaling up production to a much larger module - as least cost-effectively enough to be able to make money off a NASA contract.

      It does answer my previously lingering question as to why Bigelow wasn't selected for the ISS expansion - at least as to why NASA would select some completely unproven company over Bigelow's impressive promise.

      A real shame - they've been developing these inflatable habitats all this time, only to stumble just as the opportunities are finally starting to heat up.

      Or, perhaps this was an excuse to clear out the scientists and engineers now that the technology is mature, and start focussing on production? Might have been systemic personnel issues as well.

      Laying off *everyone* though... that's something serious.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 24 2020, @08:30PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 24 2020, @08:30PM (#975180)

        I agree, there is more to this story than being said.

        It has to be damn hard to propose something you haven't built and go up against TRL-9 technology in BEAM. Maybe Bigelow really really wants to go after the free-flyer proposal and he knows he's too small to win both. Or maybe Axiom grossly underbid with the expectation they'll get more money later. Some interesting notes about Axiom []:

        Axiom was founded in 2016 by Kam Ghaffarian, who previously led space industry engineering services company Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, and Michael Suffredini, who was program manager for the ISS at NASA for a decade prior to his retirement from the agency in 2015. The company has several former astronauts in leadership positions, including former NASA administrator Charles Bolden, listed as a “business development consultant” on the company’s website.

        Axiom says it believes that experience, as well as an industry team that includes Boeing, Thales Alenia Space Italy, Intuitive Machines and Maxar Technologies, played a key role in its selection. “There is a fantastically steep learning curve to human spaceflight,” Suffredini, president and chief executive of Axiom, said in a company statement. “The collective experience at Axiom is quite far along it. Because we know firsthand what works and what doesn’t in LEO, we are innovating in terms of design, engineering and process while maintaining safety and dramatically lowering costs.”

        And this:

        NASA did not disclose in its statement why it selected Axiom for the module. The agency’s statement did feature laudatory comments from Texas’ two senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, as well as Rep. Brian Babin, whose district includes Axiom’s headquarters near the Johnson Space Center.

        I can see laying off the whole company while closed (although I don't agree with that). I guess we'll see who gets hired back when this is over and they're ramping up for the free-flying station proposal to be released.

        Or (and the cynic in me thinks this is the reason), that Axiom was wired to win it all along, and Bigelow either knew that, or was told that, and gracefully exited the process (with a promise to be awarded the next one?).

    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by khallow on Tuesday March 24 2020, @09:13PM (1 child)

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 24 2020, @09:13PM (#975203) Journal
      Sounds more like a failing company with the exact date of failure dependent on a triggering mechanism, like covid-related shutdowns.
      • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Wednesday March 25 2020, @02:40AM

        by Reziac (2489) on Wednesday March 25 2020, @02:40AM (#975302) Homepage

        Yeah, or the venture capital ran out.

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by ElizabethGreene on Wednesday March 25 2020, @12:11AM (1 child)

    by ElizabethGreene (6748) on Wednesday March 25 2020, @12:11AM (#975262)

    The glassdoor reviews for this company are enlightening reading as to the underlying cause of this failure.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday March 25 2020, @12:48AM

      by takyon (881) <> on Wednesday March 25 2020, @12:48AM (#975275) Journal


      Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program []

      The shadowy program — parts of it remain classified — began in 2007, and initially it was largely funded at the request of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was the Senate majority leader at the time and who has long had an interest in space phenomena. Most of the money went to an aerospace research company run by a billionaire entrepreneur and longtime friend of Mr. Reid’s, Robert Bigelow, who is currently working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space.

      On CBS’s “60 Minutes” in May, Mr. Bigelow said he was “absolutely convinced” that aliens exist and that U.F.O.s have visited Earth.

      Working with Mr. Bigelow’s Las Vegas-based company, the program produced documents that describe sightings of aircraft that seemed to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion, or that hovered with no apparent means of lift.

      [...] Mr. Reid said his interest in U.F.O.s came from Mr. Bigelow. In 2007, Mr. Reid said in the interview, Mr. Bigelow told him that an official with the Defense Intelligence Agency had approached him wanting to visit Mr. Bigelow’s ranch in Utah, where he conducted research.
      Mr. Reid said he met with agency officials shortly after his meeting with Mr. Bigelow and learned that they wanted to start a research program on U.F.O.s. Mr. Reid then summoned Mr. Stevens and Mr. Inouye to a secure room in the Capitol.

      [...] Contracts obtained by The Times show a congressional appropriation of just under $22 million beginning in late 2008 through 2011. The money was used for management of the program, research and assessments of the threat posed by the objects.

      The funding went to Mr. Bigelow’s company, Bigelow Aerospace, which hired subcontractors and solicited research for the program.

      Under Mr. Bigelow’s direction, the company modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena. Researchers also studied people who said they had experienced physical effects from encounters with the objects and examined them for any physiological changes. In addition, researchers spoke to military service members who had reported sightings of strange aircraft.

      [...] “Internationally, we are the most backward country in the world on this issue,” Mr. Bigelow said in an interview. “Our scientists are scared of being ostracized, and our media is scared of the stigma. China and Russia are much more open and work on this with huge organizations within their countries. Smaller countries like Belgium, France, England and South American countries like Chile are more open, too. They are proactive and willing to discuss this topic, rather than being held back by a juvenile taboo.”

      Adjust your conspiracy theories accordingly.

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2020, @09:17PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2020, @09:17PM (#975607)

    Use it to advance your agenda.

    Perhaps the virus helped Bigelow with unemployment costs that were going to happen anyway?

    See also diversion of aid to keep companies and employees viable used for stock buybacks and bonuses.