Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Government Money, Foreign Partners, And America's Space Prize.

Now that Bigelow Aerospace is operating a test inflatable habitat in Earth's orbit, The Los Angeles Times has published an in-depth story about Robert Bigelow's plans to provide places for humans to live and work in space. (Here.) Bigelow's business plan involves building destinations in space through his own company, Bigelow Aerospace, and relying on the other space captains of industry to develop cheap access to space.

Commercial development of space depends on both prongs: places to go in space and cheap methods for getting there. If Bigelow's plans succeed there will be destinatins in space that aren't government owned and operated. He's off to a good start.

Bigelow is not just sitting back and waiting for cheap access to space. He is trying to push launch costs down by sponsoring a competition called America's Space Prize. The winner of America's Space Prize must launch a ship to Earth orbit, dock with the inflatable space station Bigelow hopes to have positioned by then, and return within 60 days. Bigelow Aerospace will give the winner $50 million.

There are two rules of America's Space Prize that seem somewhat odd given the development history of inflatable habitat technology and how the Bigelow Aerospace's first test habitat was launched. (Here.) The prize rules state that no contestant may use government development money and all contestants must be American companies operating in the United States. Yet, Bigelow's inflatable habitat technology was developed by NASA and was given to Bigelow under a licensing agreement with the government agency. Bigelow's Genesis I, the inflatable habitat in orbit now, was launched earlier this year on a Russian rocket.


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