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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Fly me to the moon

I’ve been meaning to write a little about Bigelow Aerospace since before Christmas but just never could get around to it. There always seemed to be some Earth shattering events of war or liberty lost to soak up my limited writing time.

I’ll state right up front that I am not a disinterested party. The space community is incestuous beyond belief and everyone knows everyone else or a friend of theirs… or something. You would be hard pressed to find two people with more than one degree of separation. And so it is with myself. I’ve known the VP of Bigelow for over a decade, since back when in his own words “he drowned astronauts for a living”. Greg Bennett was one of the EVA planners at NASA Houston Manned Space Flight Center back then, and involved with dunking suited astronauts in the big tank they used for mission training. He was the founder of the Artemis Project of which I also became a part. And when I started my own company, the commercial side of the project got a sliver of ownership and Greg a board seat in it.

So I’ve bared all. Now for the interesting parts. Bigelow intends to kick start space tourism. He’s put $500M of his own money on the line, and there is little risk he won’t carry through because his low profile fortune was earned from Budget Suites of America, a company wholly owned by he and his wife. Decision making is rapid and final. He can plan in terms of decades.

Space was his dream from when he began his business career some thirty years ago. He is now in a position to actually do something. Unfortunately for those on the outside, this total control means he doesn’t have to publish information. He is playing this venture quite close to the chest because he can. I know most of the people named in one of the links below and I know of their travails. I do not blame him for doing his work behind guarded doors.

I do not know “Mr Big” and I am not one to pump old friends in high places (ie Greg) for proprietary information. All I can say is, Bigelow Aerospace are up to some interesting things in their desert version of the “Fearing Island” compound. You will want to read this and this to learn just about everything there is about the venture in the public domain.

3 comments to Fly me to the moon

  • Good info.

    I’ve been following Bigelow for at least three years . I heard him speak at a space tourism conference on Capitol Hill. When he started talking inflatables, I knew he was serious.

    Still, I have to be a bit skeptical of extremely rich guys who start their own private space programs. Andy Beal who tried to revive the Big Dumb Booster concept at first was planning to launch his vehicles from a private caribbean Island. It sometimes sounded as if he were a character in a bad knock off, of a James Bond movie.

    Bigelow does not threaten the established powers that be the way Beal did. He has a slightly better chance of producing some real profits.

    The most interesting thing about the current situation is the following fact.

    NASA recently said that they’d taken 45 million out of the ISS FY 03 contingency funds and spent it on a start to the Environment Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) and on a start to building the Space Station’s Node 3 .

    This is the Node that was planned as tha attach point for the now canceled Hab Module. One option for the Hab Module was something called the Transhab Module which was an inflatable structure. Transhab was canceled in 97 or 98 it was a very promising technology.

    The Question is . Did Bigelow hire the best people from Transhab? Are they still working for him and if so will NASA have to go to him if they want to restart the Inflateable Node project?

    You are right, the Space business is extremely incestuous , but it can be fun.

  • Dale Amon

    I’ve heard from some other parties that Beale had so much trouble because he didn’t do his homework. Sombrero Island might have been handled better; and his mistake in South American was just plain dumb. He got rights to build his launch facility from one country… in a disputed border area with another.

    And of course he got caught in the LEO collapse following the Iridium debacle. He blamed it on government competition, but it was simply a market thing. Too many LV’s chasing after too few payloads.

    That’s why everyone serious in the small launch companies today is looking at tourism, or space station servicing, anything but the satellite launch business.

  • DFH

    The article suggested he would hava a module ready to launch by summer of 2003. That time is approaching very quickly. Any word on their progress. I find this whole prospect of space commercialization fascinating