A conceptual model of a Bigelow habitat on the lunar surface. Image source: Bigelow Aerospace/MSNBC.com.
Confirming an April 10 report by KLAS-TV journalist George Knapp, Alan Boyle of MSNBC News reports that NASA and Bigelow Aerospace have signed an agreement that lets Bigelow explore the possibility of commercial ventures beyond Earth orbit.
"As part of our broader commercial space strategy, NASA signed a Space Act Agreement with Bigelow Aerospace to foster ideas about how the private sector can contribute to future human missions," David Weaver, the space agency's associate administrator for communications, said in a statement emailed to NBC News.
"This will provide important information on possible ways to expand our exploration capabilities in partnership with the private sector," Weaver said. "The agency is intensely focused on a bold mission to identify, relocate and explore an asteroid with American astronauts by 2025 — all as we prepare for an even more ambitious human mission to Mars in the 2030s. NASA has no plans for a human mission to the moon."
The Space Act Agreement is unfunded, meaning that unlike the commercial cargo and crew programs Bigelow will receive no seed money from NASA for achieving milestones.
According to the article:
The agreement with NASA calls upon Bigelow Aerospace to lay out the potential contributions to exploration beyond Earth orbit. "First, we'll be identifying what the companies and technologies are that could contribute, and then we'll be examining what some of those specific mission scenarios might be," [Bigelow spokesperson Mike] Gold said. During the "Coast to Coast AM" interview, Robert Bigelow said the first phase of the study would take 100 days, and the second phase would take 120 days.