A model of Bigelow Aerospace inflatable habitat modules on the lunar surface. Image source: Bigelow Aerospace / NBCNews.com.
NASA issued a press release today announcing a media event Tuesday November 12 in Washington, D.C. that is expected to reveal a possible commercial lunar program.
NASA and Bigelow Aerospace entered into an unfunded Space Act Agreement in March which authorized Bigelow on NASA's behalf to “facilitate and explore, in a manner that meets both national and commercial goals and objectives, joint public/private arrangements that would continue to build the ability for humans to live and work in space through the expansion of exploration capabilities beyond Earth orbit.”
KLAS-TV Las Vegas journalist George Knapp broke the story on April 10, and on April 19 MSNBC.com space reporter Alan Boyle confirmed the report with more details.
NASASpaceflight.com looked at the partnership in May, when NASA and Bigelow held a media event to announce preliminary findings. Click here to listen to an audio recording of that event. The November 12 event is to discuss the second-phase analysis submitted by the company.
Bob Bigelow's endgame has always been the permanent presence of his habitats on the lunar surface. Bigelow said at the May media event, “The brass ring for us is having a lunar base. That is a desire we’ve had for a long, long time.”
On Tuesday, we may get his roadmap.
I have to wonder how entrenched “OldSpace” interests zealously protecting the Space Launch System will react to this. If a combination of SpaceX Falcon Heavy rockets and Dragon capsules can deliver his habitats and customers to the lunar surface, then it calls into question why SLS is needed. NASA has proposed the Asteroid Initiative for the SLS in the early 2020s, but Congress has not approved that program and many of the House and Senate space subcommittee members have rejected the idea, demanding an Apollo redux they've been unwilling to fund.
So Tuesday could be the NewSpace foot kicking over the OldSpace ant hill.