Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bigelow Hot Air


Click the arrow to watch a January 16, 2013 report by KLAS reporter George Knapp about the Bigelow BEAM deal with NASA.

KLAS-TV Las Vegas journalist George Knapp posted on LasVegasCityLife.com April 10 that “an adventurous deal” has been reached between NASA and Bigelow Aerospace that “could be an historic contract.”

Business deals don’t get much bigger than this one. Have you ever read a contract that gives a governmental green light to a program to “place a base on the surface of the moon?” Ever see an agreement signed by the U.S. government that declares a specific goal “to extend and sustain human activities across the solar system?” Me, either.

Yet that is essence of an adventurous deal already reached between NASA and Las Vegas space entrepreneur Robert Bigelow. An official announcement is still a few days away and will likely happen during a news conference at NASA headquarters. In the meantime, I have a draft copy of what could be an historic contract, one that reads like a Kubrick screenplay or an Arthur C. Clarke story. It is flat-out otherworldly ...

NASA has picked Bigelow Aerospace to be a linchpin of this new strategy. The agreement will formalize a series of strategic goals and timetables for the next Space Race. Bigelow’s company would become a clearinghouse of sorts. Its first assignment: to identify which other companies would be most valuable for NASA’s long-range goals, including permanent bases on other celestial bodies, the exploration of the most distant parts of our solar system, and commercial projects that could stimulate the U.S. economy. This is a marriage of American know-how, practical business goals and good, old-fashioned adventure.

Bigelow told me about some of the details in a radio interview a few days ago, but he is saving most of the specifics until NASA makes a formal announcement. From what I have seen, though, it is not hard to imagine our little desert community becoming the heart and soul of a wonderful new initiative that could inspire a new generation of explorers and pioneers who literally will go where no human has gone before.

Knapp and KLAS have reported over the last several years about Bigelow's progress, including a January 16, 2013 announcement that a habitat prototype called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will be attached to the International Space Station in 2015.


Bob Bigelow in 2010 with a concept model of inflatable habitats on the lunar surface. Image source: Space.com.

The notion of using Bigelow habitats for a lunar base isn't new. Space.com reported in April 2010 that Bigelow had a vision of a “quick-deploy moon base capable of housing up to 18 astronauts in inflatable modules on the lunar surface.”

The base itself would be fabricated in space, with consideration being given to crewmembers piloting the entire base directly onto the moon's surface.

“I see a huge sea change in using expandable systems,” Bigelow told SPACE.com in an exclusive interview. “I feel this architecture is fundamentally safer, less expensive, and can save an awful lot of time.”

I wonder if the next step will be to see NASA midwife partnerships between Bigelow and prospective lunar expedition endeavours such as The Golden Spike Company, perhaps issuing Space Act Agreements for programs such as Commercial Orbital Transportation Services while NASA focuses on its asteroid initiative.

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