The inflation of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, a prototype space habitat, is shown in this series of images taken by a NASA camera on the International Space Station during expansion operations on May 28, 2016.
(Image: © NASA TV)
A company that builds expandable space habitats has laid off its entire workforce, according to media reports.
Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace, which has long aimed to set up outposts in Earth orbit and on the moon, let 20 employees go last week and then laid off all 68 of its remaining workers on Monday (March 23), SpaceNews reported.
Sources told SpaceNews’ Jeff Foust that the moves were caused by a “perfect storm of problems,” including the coronavirus pandemic. (On March 20, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered all “nonessential” businesses in the state to close, in an attempt to slow the virus’s spread.)
A Bigelow Aerospace spokesperson confirmed the layoffs to Foust but told him the company planned to hire workers back after things returned to normal. But other sources felt the layoffs were likely to be permanent, Foust wrote.
Bigelow Aerospace has been developing NASA-derived expandable-habitat technology for two decades. The company builds modules that launch in a compact configuration but inflate dramatically off Earth, providing more usable internal volume than traditional aluminum habitats.
Bigelow has launched three experimental habitats to date. The Genesis I and Genesis II uncrewed test modules reached Earth orbit in 2006 and 2007, respectively, and the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) flew to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule in 2016. BEAM remains attached to the orbiting lab and serves as a storage compartment.
The company is also developing a huge module called the B330, which would offer 330 cubic meters (12,000 cubic feet) of habitable volume. The B330 is the envisioned backbone of Bigelow Aerospace outposts in Earth orbit, lunar orbit and the surface of the moon, which would be visited by paying customers for a variety of purposes, from scientific research to tourism.
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Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.