Bigelow Aerospace

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Bigelow Aerospace, founded by Robert Bigelow in 1998, is a different kind of aerospace company. Aimed at building commercial space-based habitats rather than vehicles to get to and from them, Bigelow also uses a unique inflatable-module technology based on plans for the International Space Station that NASA scrapped.

Bigelow has launched two small test modules into orbit aboard converted Russian ICBMs, and is looking to launch the first part of a habitable three-module space station in 2014. Reporters often assume that Mr. Bigelow, a hotel magnate, just wants to build space hotels, but the company's website claims the station will be used by "governmental and corporate entities interested in building an astronaut program or performing microgravity research," rather than by space tourists. In other words, he's using a technology developed for the ISS to compete with the ISS for customers.

Bigelow's long-term plans include a moon base built from the same type of inflatable modules, whose sturdy multilayer design ensures that they're much harder to pop than the average balloon.

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