Bigelow: Six Countries Lined Up to Lease Private Space Stations

A Boeing CST-100 crew module docks at a Bigelow Aerospace space station. (Credit: Boeing)

A bit more on Robert Bigelow’s visit on Wednesday to the United Launch Alliance production facility in Decatur, Ala. Media reports indicate that Bigelow’s company will need a large number of rockets to sustain its planned space stations. He also said he has six nations lined up to lease the facilities.

The Hunstville Times reports:

Robert Bigelow, whose aerospace company has launched two space vehicles into orbit, said today his company will need rockets for 24 flights a year beginning in 2017 to sustain two more space stations he plans to launch.

United Launch Alliance, which builds Atlas and Delta rockets, is capable of building 40 rockets a year at its plant here, said Dr. George Sowers, the company’s vice president of business development and advanced programs.

“We’d love to be able to do that,” Sowers said about the possibility of selling Bigelow 24 rockets annually.

The Decatur Daily says that could be very good news for the northern Alabama city:

A commercial space station relying on Atlas and Delta rockets could double to 2,000 the numbers of employees at United Launch Alliance’s plant in Decatur.

As for ULA’s ability to support Bigelow’s projected needs for two rockets a month, Sowers said the factory in Mallard-Fox Creek Industrial Park has the capacity to build 40 rockets per year and to roll out 24 rockets annually, but ULA would need to double the nearly 1,000 employees and contractors working there now.

ULA will build five Atlas rockets and five Delta rockets this year.

An expansion at ULA would help to offset job losses that have occurred in nearby Huntsville as a result of changes made to NASA’s Constellation program.

Whether Bigelow would single source his rocket requirements to one company is an interesting question. It’s likely the company would also look to fly on other vehicles such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Taurus II in order to avoid being overly dependent upon any one source.

The sheer number of flights required means that there are substantial commercial opportunities for U.S. launch providers. And Bigelow would probably not be able to launch them all from Cape Canaveral, meaning that Wallops Island in Virginia might experience a major increase in flights.

It’s also possible that Bigelow could launch from outside of the United States. However, that will require relaxation of strict U.S. export laws government high technology. The Obama Administration is pursuing reforms, but prospects are uncertain. Congressional approval will be required for many of the changes.

The Las Vegas hotel mogul also told officials in Decatur that he has lined up countries to lease his space stations:

Bigelow said he’s spent more than $200 million of his money to date, and it will take another $300 million to push the program through the first space station. All of that money is private investment, and he added that in a few weeks, he will announce six countries that will be Bigelow’s first customers.

Bigelow Aerospace has teamed with Boeing to develop a seven-person crew transport vehicle to serve both the Internatonal Space Station and private facilities. The project depends upon Bigelow obtaining funding under NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program.

The Huntsville Times story is here. Read the Decatur Daily story here.