NASA mulling over supporting Bigelow Aerospace modules on moon and orbit

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Nasa might join private companies in supporting various Bigelow modules in orbit and on the moon. The Bigelow modules attached to various rockets for getting on with long range exploration actually intrigue me as well:

“A study by Bigelow Aerospace, commissioned by NASA, shows ‘a lot of excitement and interest from various companies’ for moonbases and other space projects. The projects range from pharmaceutical research aboard Earth-orbiting habitats, to missions to the moon’s surface, he said on Thursday, citing a draft of the report due to be released in a few weeks. Bigelow Aerospace surveyed about 20 companies as well as foreign space agencies and research organizations for the NASA study. NASA expects to release the first part of Bigelow’s study within a few weeks. The second section is expected to be finished this fall.”

(Via NASA could join private customers for a permanant inflatable moonbase in the 2020s and become a tenant of a Bigelow spacestation after the International Space Station.)

Bigelow and NASA may be up to more than just an extra module on the ISS

Bigelow and NASA have agreed to attach a Bigelow station to the ISS. Now there are hints that NASA and Bigelow may be up to a lot more than just that:

“On Thursday, Las Vegas City Life columnist George Knapp wrote that Bigelow and NASA have reached an ‘adventurous deal’ that ‘reads like a Kubrick screenplay or an Arthur C. Clarke story,’ he claimed. The two have agreed to study ‘a series of strategic goals and timetables’ for future space exploration, up to and including bases on the Moon, led by private enterprise. ‘Bigelow’s company would become a clearinghouse of sorts,’ Knapp wrote. ‘Its first assignment: to identify which other companies would be most valuable for NASA’s long-range goals.’”

(Via What’s Robert Bigelow up to now with NASA? « NewSpace Journal.)

Inspiration Mars: WTF?

Universe Today is suggesting, based on some info Jeff Foust dug up, that Dennis Tito is creating Inspiration Mars and plans to use a modified Dragon SpaceX capsule to do a 501 day trip for two people around Mars and back.

501 days in a capsule is… extreme. Here is the capsule in question:

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A year and a half in that?

Or as Karl Schroeder put it on twitter:

“Okay, I’ll say it: going to Mars in 2018: great idea. Spending 500 days in a tiny modified Dragon capsule? Batshit crazy. (Sorry, Elon)”

Agreed.

They need to talk to Bigelow Aerospace about adding an inflatable module to the mission.

I gather we’ll find out sometime next week if this is truly the plan.

Bigelow announces pricing information

They’re still down the road from creating their own, private space station. Right now they’re planning to add a module to the International Space Station. But Bigelow recently announced their pricing structure, and it’s interesting.

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The BA 330 is larger than current ISS modules, and they’re offering 1/3 of a module for a 60 day lease (for $25 million), and either Dragon 9 human-rated capsule or a Boeing CST-100 capsule to deliver the astronaut (for $26.25 million to $36.75 million if using the Boeing):

Per the information above, utilizing a Falcon 9 and Dragon, for only $51.25 million, a client can travel to the Alpha Station for two months and enjoy dominion over 110 cubic meters of volume for 60 days. Additionally, Alpha Station clientele will be allowed to sublease their on-orbit volume or resell purchased astronaut seats. This flexibility will provide clients with the opportunity to reduce their own costs or even make a profit.

So that’s $52 million for a 60 day stay. I’m assuming you could rotate astronauts less frequently in and out to create a year-round, permanently staffed mission. At $25 million per 60 days, that’s $150 million for renting space up there year round. Assume a pair of astronauts, with a new pair coming up every 4 months, that’s $158 million in SpaceX delivery costs. So $308 million a year for a permanent, year-round space program that you don’t have to build from the ground up.

I wonder how many nations would be interested in spending that for a year-round presence? Here’s a list of space agency budgets around the world. The one that stands out is the ISRO (India Space AGency), as well as Germany and Japan. Germany and Japan seem to prefer working with the ISS, as does the UK and Canada.

But certainly Brazil, India, and South Korea might be interested in at least getting one of their own astronauts up once a year guaranteed. Brazil had a large launch program of its own, for a while, that failed. Getting a ride up may be appealing. Malaysia believes having astronauts in orbit inspires more scientists, which is why they sent the first Malaysian into orbit in 2007 by hiring a Russian launch and ride to the ISS. Ecuador already has an astronaut plan that relies on buying a ride. Argentina has the budget as well ($148 million a year for their space program).

Let’s compare this to the current cost of the ISS. According to Wikipedia:

As of 2010 NASA budgeted $58.7 billion for the station from 1985 to 2015, or $72.4 billion in 2010 dollars. The cost is $150 billion including 36 shuttle flights at $1.4 billion each, Russia’s $12 billion ISS budget, Europe’s $5 billion, Japan’s $5 billion, and Canada’s $2 billion.

The ISS might be deorbited in 2015. If it is, one can expect space advocates and others to get upset.

But $97 billion over 30 years between the US, ESA, Russia, Japan and Canada is a ~$3.25 billion a year cost for the ISS. It holds 2-6 people.

US: $2.4 billion a year for access to the ISS
Russia: $400 million a year for access to the ISS
Europe: $166 million a year for access to the ISS
Japan: $166 million a year for access to the ISS
Canada: $66 million a year

Add to that having to either choose $100 million dollar Soyuz launches, or $1.3 billion dollar shuttle launches, the cost of going up to and keeping the ISS up are interesting to compare to Bigelow’s ask. It’s not like Europe, Canada, and Japan have astronauts constantly up in the air, they’re getting an astronaut for a small period once every other year or so. They could get that directly out of a Bigelow experience.

There are a lot of ‘ifs’ though. Bigelow has demonstrated smaller modules. They don’t have the BA 330 up in the air yet (though it looks like they’re eyeing that 2015 date). They also have to wait for Boeing and SpaceX to demonstrate safe, human missions to the ISS (though Boeing has prior experience and SpaceX seems to be marching toward it).

But all that being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of those nations not in the ISS list either pooling resources, or plain ponying up once every few years to refine and hone some attention getting astronaut trips of their own. It’ll certainly be a compelling price structure.

ISS to feature inflatable space hab extension by Bigelow

Bigelow Aerospace designs inflatable modules. They’ve been quiet for about five years now, since the 2007 launch of their last, fairly large inflatable module. Which is why I’m excited to see that they will be now moving forward with putting a test module on the ISS. This will allow them to see how a crewed version will fare:

The space agency said Friday that it has signed a $17.8-million contract with Bigelow to provide the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, to the ISS. Few details about the module’s size, capabilities, or launch date have been announced, although more details are expected to be released at a press conference at Bigelow’s Las Vegas facilities on January 16. NASA said that the module will demonstrate the capabilities of expandable habitat technology for future commercial and government applications.

Again, for all the angst about losing space shuttle capacity, it’s been a fairly cool couple years in terms of moving forward in regards to space activity. I think, realizing that they have to move forward is spurring NASA to invest in and poke at some interesting things.

Here’s a rendering of the Genesis II, that they launched into orbit in 2007 and has been up there since:

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Like many alt-space companies Bigelow has big dreams beyond just the two demo labs they’ve put in space to demonstrate the technology. The ISS module is a big first step toward starting to make money off their technology, and to their eventual near-term dream of offering a second alternative to the ISS.