Monday, September 25, 2006

Up, Up, And Away In Bigelow's Space Balloon.

In this week's issue of The Space Review Jeff Foust tries to make sense of Bigelow Aerospace's recent actions that follow on the successful launch of the company's inflatable space habitat. (Here.) Perhaps the most notable moves by the Las Vegas-based space company involve their relations with two rocket companies.

Elon Musk of SpaceX announced the following in his September 8, 2006 update: "In addition to servicing NASA needs, I expect that F9/Dragon will also be of service to Bigelow Aerospace, which recently had a very successful flight of their sub-scale commercial space station. Bigelow Aerospace and SpaceX have an ongoing dialogue to ensure that F9/Dragon meets the human transportation needs of their planned space station as efficiently as possible." (Here.) Just the other day Bigelow and Lockheed Martin announced a study to determine the feasibility of using the Atlas V for Bigelow's planned space station. (Here.)

These moves seem to represent a significant change of plans for Bigelow Aerospace.

Just last month the Los Angeles Times profiled the company and described a business plan to build an orbital destination for other areospace companies to service: a kind of a Field of Dreams in space, if we build it, their rockets will come.

Bigelow has hedged its bets by funding a $50 million competition called America's Space Prize to encourage the development of an orbital launch system. But America's Space Prize has always seemed significantly underfunded. Compare its paltry $50 million prize to NASA's $500 million COTS award. Furthermore, its restriction against the use of government development funding has always seemed extremely limiting for an industry that is not exactly rolling in dough.

What Bigelow's recent moves seem to indicate is a recognition that simply building a destination and offering a prize isn't enough to develop low-cost transportation to Earth's orbit. Instead real money will have to be paid to credible space companies to avoid a future in which one day Bigelow might have a space station ready to fly to orbit and no way to get it there, or almost as bad, a station parked in orbit with no ships able to get there except those flown by governments.


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Republished once for editing.


Good blog!
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