Alan Boyle over at Cosmic Log has just interviewed Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace, the company building and testing inflatable space habitats for low-Earth-orbit.
Turns out that they’re not just for low-Earth-orbit. Bigelow’s long-range plans include assembling moon-bases out of his modules, at the Earth-Moon-L1 lagrange point, and flying them whole to the lunar surface. Just cover with lunar regolith for radiation protection, and you have an instant prefabricated moon base. According to the interview, NASA is interested.
Of course, at this point it’s all speculation, but Bigelow does have one ace up his sleeve that most NewSpace companies can’t claim: hardware in orbit. An uncrewed, one-third-scale prototype of the habitat, Genesis One, is already being checked out in space. Another, more sophisticated prototype is due for launch in early April. Sometime after that, a one-half scale prototype will be launched, and Bigelow plans to have a human-capable space module, Sundancer, on-orbit and ready for occupation some time in 2010.