The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: A Tale of Two Human Space Programs

commercial_crew_earthAll the promise, perils and contradictions of America’s human spaceflight effort were on display earlier this week in Washington, D.C.

Things were looking good for a day or so, but then the proverbial other shoe dropped to remind everyone of the deep trouble that lies ahead as NASA attempts to restore its human spaceflight capability and send astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.

As NASA struggles to execute a series of ambitious programs on increasingly tight budgets, the main beneficiary appears to be the bumbling, crisis prone Russian space agency Roscosmos, which has reaped a financial windfall as a result of America’s equally bumbling human spaceflight policy. And matters could get worse before they get better (for NASA, at least).


NASA, Bigelow to Discuss Private Sector Space Exploration Effort

Artist's conception of a Bigelow lunar habitat. (Credit: Bigelow Aerospace)
Artist’s conception of a Bigelow lunar habitat. (Credit: Bigelow Aerospace)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA and Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas are holding a media availability at 1:30 p.m. EDT, Thursday, May 23, to discuss the agency’s Space Act Agreement with the company for its insight on collaborating with commercial industry on exploration beyond Earth orbit. Journalists can participate in-person or by teleconference.


Video Interview with Robert Bigelow

Video Caption: Robert Bigelow, founder and president of Bigelow Aerospace LLC, talks about his company’s inflatable module that will be tested on the International Space Station in 2015 and the outlook for space tourism. He speaks with Mark Crumpton on Bloomberg Television’s “Bottom Line”.

Bigelow to Rehire Workers in Wake of NASA’s Commercial Crew Awards

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver is given a tour of the Bigelow Aerospace facilities by the company’s President Robert Bigelow on Friday, Feb. 4, 2011, in Las Vegas. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

NASA’s decision last month to award commercial crew contracts worth a combined $900 million to Boeing and SpaceX has provided a boost for Bigelow Aerospace’s efforts to launch private space stations into orbit.

Bigelow, which has partnered with both companies to provide transportation services to its orbital facilities, plans to hire re-hire workers who had been earlier laid off due to delays in NASA’s commercial crew program.


Robert Bigelow Congratulates SpaceX on Dragon Flight

Robert Bigelow

Congratulations SpaceX!
Statement From Robert T. Bigelow
June 4, 2012

“On behalf of all of us at Bigelow Aerospace congratulations to SpaceX on the successful completion of the Dragon’s historic demonstration mission to the International Space Station. Space operations are extraordinarily unforgiving, and for SpaceX to meet with such an unprecedented degree of success on their first attempt to visit the Station illustrates the company’s incredible capabilities and is a real tribute to the hard work and dedication of Elon Musk, Gwynne Shotwell, and the entire SpaceX team. Successful completion of this mission also represents a significant victory for the commercial crew program as a whole, and validates NASA’s current approach that avoids dependence on a single crew transportation provider and leverages the inherent efficiencies of the Space Act Agreement legal vehicle. The Dragon’s mission has been one small step for SpaceX, but is one giant leap for commercial space.”


SpaceX to Offer Rides to Bigelow’s Private Space Stations

Hawthorne, CA, and Las Vegas, NV-  Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Bigelow Aerospace (BA) have agreed to conduct a joint marketing effort focused on international customers. The two companies will offer rides on SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, using the Falcon launch vehicle to carry passengers to Bigelow habitats orbiting the earth.


Exclusive Video: Robert Bigelow Talks Space and More — Part III

Above is the third part of an interview that Robert Bigelow gave to reporters during the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, NM. Bigelow had just given an address to the conference in which he warned that China could claim the moon in the early 2020s and urged American leaders to renew their commitment to leadership in space.

If you missed any of it, Parts I and II are below.

Images: Robert Bigelow’s Ambitious Plans for Space

Robert Bigelow was the keynote speaker at the NSS Governors’ Dinner and Gala in Huntsville last night. Standing beneath a Saturn V in a city that forms the heart of opposition to NASA’s commercial approach to human spaceflight, the founder of Bigelow Aerospace laid out his ambitious plans to launch private space stations into orbit by the middle of the decade. The details are laid out in the photos below.


Bigelow to Keynote International Space Development Conference

Robert Bigelow

NSS PR — Robert Bigelow, Founder and President of Bigelow Aerospace, <>  will be the Honored Keynote Speaker at the ISDC Governors’ Dinner and Gala to be held in the Davidson Center at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama on May 20.  Mr. Bigelow founded Bigelow Aerospace, which is noted for developing and launching the first inflatable space habitats.  At the Gala, Mr. Bigelow will also receive the National Space Society’s Space Pioneer Award for Space Development for his efforts to advance the technology of space habitats and for the significance they may play in the development of space tourism, industry and exploration.

Bigelow Aerospace took over the Transhab space habitat development program after NASA scrapped it, and effectively reinvented it – developing and successfully launching its prototypes, Genesis I and II, in 2006 and 2007. Limitations on payload volume during launch are one of the major constraints of the NewSpace industry, and the Company’s inflatable concept solves that problem for most in-space habitat applications. The lower launch volume and mass per volume of the inflatables, combined with now imminent launch cost reductions, should soon allow delivery of paying passengers to safe and functional orbiting destinations, such as the Bigelow station planned for operation by 2015.


Entrepreneurs Transforming U.S. Space Industry

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

Upon arriving in Florida for the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference, I was pleased to see the front page of the Orlando Sentinel’s Sunday edition was dominated by a large front-page story about Robert Bigelow and his plans for private commercial space stations. There is not much new in the article, but it does contain this astute observation from Bigelow Aerospace’s Mike Gold:

He said the current crop of new space entrepreneurs — such as Bigelow and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk — bring to the table not only personal wealth but also a business sense developed in other industries, including what Gold called “good subcontractor management.” (SpaceX, for example, designed, built and launched its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule for less than $1 billion, almost a rounding error in the typical NASA contract.)


Bigelow to Space Coast: Infrastructure Expansion and Upgrades Essential

Space Florida's Launch Complex 36

Aviation Week has a bit more on Bigelow Aerospace’s pitch to Florida to become the main launch complex for the company’s commercial space stations:

One of the keys to Bigelow’s success is an exemption from International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) restrictions. “Our aerospace company is the only aerospace company in the United States that is ITAR-exempt. That was not easy. We achieved that a while back,” [Robert] Bigelow told about 150 community leaders and journalists gathered to hear his pitch for the Space Coast. The event was organized by Space Florida, a state-backed agency.


Bigelow, Space Florida to Pursue Customers for Private Space Stations

Bigelow Aerospace's planned Sundancer space module

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL (February 3, 2011) – Yesterday, Space Florida President Frank DiBello and Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace, signed a Memorandum of Understanding, agreeing to work together to pursue and identify foreign and domestic companies that could benefit from utilization of Bigelow’s expandable, orbital space complexes.


Bigelow Partnership is Potentially Quite Lucrative for Florida

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

A bit more on the Bigelow-Space Florida MOU, which was signed at an event yesterday at Cape Canaveral. It looks as if the actual cooperative venture is relatively modest in the near term, but potentially quite lucrative in the long run — providing state officials play their cards right and ante up.


Bigelow Signs MOU to Create Human Spaceflight Program for Dubai, UAE

Bigelow Aerospace's planned Sundancer space station


The Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) and Bigelow Aerospace LLC, an organisation dedicated to providing affordable options for spaceflight to national space agencies and corporate clients, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to drive joint efforts to usher in a new era in human spaceflight based on innovative technologies, affordability, commercial sustainability, and strong international partnerships.

As per the MoU, EIAST and Bigelow Aerospace will explore joint efforts to establish a next-generation commercial human spaceflight programme for Dubai and the UAE, leveraging recent advances in human spaceflight. They will work to create a world-class microgravity research and development programme with a potential focus on advanced biotechnology applications, and a variety of other commercial space-related activities.


FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference to Feature Bigelow, Babbit

AIAA Press Release

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) will co-sponsor the 14th annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference, to be held February 9–10 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mt. Vernon Place NW, Washington, D.C.

The conference will feature high-level speakers and panels examining the state of technology and capabilities in the commercial space transportation sector, including new space technologies, government customers for commercial space, and commercial space transportation regulatory issues.