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.
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.