Bigelow and NASA have signed a contract for doing preliminary work on the construction of a Bigelow module for ISS.
This is a significant story, with important ramifications:
- First, NASA is once again just the customer, merely buying the module and rocket from private companies. This action not only helps subsidize Bigelow and creates another product for companies like SpaceX and Orbital Sciences to launch — thereby generating more capital for these launch services — it also reaffirms NASA’s new status as a customer, not a designer, of spacecraft and rockets. In other words, the power and ownership in the aerospace industry continues to shift away from the government and to the private sector.
- Second, the successful addition of this private module to ISS will demonstrate that there is no reason to de-orbit it, ever. Instead we can merely add and replace modules to not only keep the station running, but to also expand it.
- Third, the speed and low cost of this project will once again demonstrate the advantages of having private companies do this work, rather than a government agency like NASA. If NASA tried to build a new module for ISS it would take many years and cost far more than anything Bigelow might charge.
All in all, this is excellent news. I would also be confident that Bigelow can build its module as fast as they say — two years — because the company has already built and successfully put into orbit two prototype space station modules.
In just a few years we might not only see private companies launching their own spacecraft to put humans into space, they might also be building the space modules for housing them there.