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Many years ago, in the 2005 - 2010 area, it seemed like there were a lot of proposals to create commercial space habitats. These included inflatable modules, usage of spent fuel tanks, and traditional stations. At the time all presented projections of around 2020 as a construction start date. Unfortunately, due to a change of life circumstances, I stopped reading as much news as I used to and lost track of things.

I have picked back up on watching/reading the news over the past few years, but it seems like these projects have fallen off the radar and I've seen no news of progress with any of them. Have commercial space stations been abandoned as technologically unfeasible at this time, did something change in the economic or political atmosphere that delayed their implementation, or were these all pipe dreams from the start?

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  • $\begingroup$ There is some helpful information and links in the question Why is a near rectilinear halo orbit proposed for LOP-G (formerly known as Deep Space Gateway?) and answers there. $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 26 '18 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh -- That question, and the answers to it, are quite orthogonal to this question. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen May 27 '18 at 23:06
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen Given the current administration's desire to commercialize space (and to make govt. in general a source of wealth for the already-rich), LOP-G may end up as essentially a commercial endeavor. $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 28 '18 at 1:32
  • $\begingroup$ Definitely worth mentioning: Bigelow Expandable Activity Module already mounted on ISS - a proof-of-concept test article for their planned station structure, undergoing 'live' test. Currently (after 2 years of sitting sealed off from ISS and undergoing periodic inspections) it's been deemed good enough to be used as extra storage space. $\endgroup$ – SF. May 30 '18 at 8:45
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Were these all pipe dreams from the start?

Some most certainly were. Some most likely were worse than pipe dreams; they were just schemes to part foolish investors from their monies. I won't name names.

Only one of those early commercial space station proposals, Bigelow Aerospace, remains intact. It was and is mostly funded by the founder's profits from his Earth-based hotel chain. From what I can tell, it most definitely is not a scheme to part foolish investors from their monies. Whether it will become reality remains to be seen.

A few newcomers have come and gone since 2010, gone either because they don't understand the expenses and complexities of getting to orbit and maintaining an on-orbit, human-qualified presence, or gone because their primary goal was to part foolish investors from their monies. A very small number of apparently honest and apparently cognizant newcomers appear to be quite serious. One in that latter category is Axiom Space.

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We are quite close.

For example, Axiom Space really wants to make its off-Earth outpost — the first pieces of which are scheduled to launch in 2020. The station will be serving as a base for research and a destination for national astronauts and deep-pocketed tourists.

Amir Blachman, Axiom Space's vice president of strategic development stated: "We expect that, by the 2027 time frame, manufacturing will overtake all the other revenue combined."

On February 20th, entrepreneur Robert Bigelow announced the creation of Bigelow Space Operations (BSO), which will manage the private space stations being built by his Nevada-based manufacturing company, Bigelow Aerospace. This company certainly has the capabilities to do station deployment and expansion in space.

Even a startup claims it will be able to place a single-module commercial space station into orbit by 2022. Frank Bunger, CEO of Orion Span sais he believes there’s a strong demand for orbital space tourism and wants to 'make it so'. “We reckon with 18,000 NASA astronaut applicants per year, there is a market for people who want to feel what it’s like to be an astronaut,” he said. “We’re selling an authentic astronaut experience.”

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