Bigelow Eyes Wallops for Human Space Missions

Antares rocket on the launch pad on Wallops Island. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Antares rocket on the launch pad on Wallops Island. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Bigelow Aerospace’s Mike Gold told the Eastern Shore Defense Alliance this week that his company is looking for human space launches from Wallops Island, Virginia.

“We are prepared to make a proposal that will include human spaceflight from Wallops,” said Michael N. Gold, director of D.C. Operations for Bigelow Aerospace, a private company based in Las Vegas.

The company is talking to NASA about the possibility of conducting a demonstration mission that would involve human spaceflight — and Bigelow wants to use Virginia’s spaceport as its base.

“We want to be here, and the reason we want to be here is the people in this room right now — the support, the welcome, the enthusiasm that we’ve seen — we want to make this home,” Gold said.

Accomack County Administrator Steve Miner called Bigelow Aerospace “one of the top prizes of commercial space in the world today;” to have the company at Wallops would be “truly significant,” he said.

Bigelow is planning to launch a series of private space stations into orbit later this decade. The stations could require more than 20 launches of crew and cargo vehicles per year.

Gold told the group that that NASA’s Kennedy Space Center could be far too busy to accommodate all the launches that his company and others want to undertake.

Wallops Island host a NASA facility overseen by Goddard Space Flight Center and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, whose operations are run by Virginia with some financial assistance from Maryland.

There are a couple of big questions involving this plan. The first is what rocket would fly with human crews out of Wallops. Orbital Sciences’ Antares vehicle, which launches cargo ships to the International Space Station, is probably undersized for such a role without a major upgrade.

The second question is how much it would cost to construct the substantial infrastructure required to support human missions and who would pay for it.  The answer is unknown, but the funding would come from state, federal and private contributions.