An artist's concept of the Bigelow BA-300 inflatable habitat. Image source: Bigelow Aerospace.
Buried in this week's Florida Today Space Notebook is a passage suggesting SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace have a deal for launching expandable modules, perhaps from Virginia.
In a Feb. 3 letter, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce asked U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski — chair of the appropriations committee and a champion of NASA's Wallops Island, Va., launch site — to allocate money from exploration programs to a public-private partnership with Bigelow Aerospace, the Nevada-based developer of private space habitats.
The letter claims Bigelow has an arrangement with SpaceX to build a launch pad at the state-run Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island. The pad would launch Bigelow's next-generation BA-330 habitat, then crews and cargo.
In fact, no such arrangement exists, at least not yet. And the huge BA-330 station would require a heavy-lift rocket likely dictating a launch from Florida, not Wallops.
In an interview, Mike Gold, Bigelow's director of D.C. operations and business growth, reiterated the company's interest in Wallops as offering more autonomy and fewer launch conflicts than at Cape Canaveral.
But he said Florida would benefit significantly if NASA committed to a demonstration program that helps advance its commercial habitats.
This would seem to suggest that Bigelow and SpaceX have at least an understanding, if not a formal agreement.
The letter coincides with the end of KSC Visitor Complex tours of Pad 39A after March 31.
No formal lease with SpaceX has been announced, but SpaceX employees have been spotted recently at 39A, and the end of the tours would suggest a formal deal is imminent.
Pad 39A would be an ideal launch site for the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, currently planned for its first test flight in 2015 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California. Although SpaceX hasn't formally announced how it would distribute launch activity among Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Pad 39A at KSC, and other launch sites, it's believed that they foresee an evolution to a plan where the Cape and Vandenberg are used for Defense Department launches, 39A for NASA launches (commercial crew and heavy lift), and strictly private-sector payloads at Brownsville, Shiloh or another site.