SpaceX and Bigelow Join Forces
SpaceX announced today that it is joining forces with Bigelow Aerospace to market opportunities for people to fly into space on SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Dragon crew space transportation system to inflatable space stations built by Bigelow Aerospace.
Bigelow Aerospace already has launched two small inflatable space station demonstrators, Genesis I and Genesis II, using Russian rockets in 2006 and 2007 respectively. It is now working on the BA 330 module that it says could accommodate six people.
Key to its space station operations is a transportation system to get people up and back. Bigelow has been working with Boeing, which is developing the CST-100 spacecraft that would be launched on a U.S. Atlas V rocket.
Boeing and SpaceX are two of the four companies NASA is funding through Space Act Agreements to develop a commercial crew capability that NASA would use to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The other two are Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin. Congress is pressuring NASA to pick either one or two of those companies for future funding rather than spreading the money over four companies. NASA is resisting because it wants several options in case some of the companies' projects do not succeed.
NASA also is funding SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. through Space Act Agreements to develop commercial cargo space transportation systems. SpaceX plans to use the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft for both cargo and crew. Its second test launch as part of the commercial cargo program is currently scheduled for May 19, 2012 although it has been postponed a number of times. Orbital has not yet conducted any tests of its system.
The announcement emailed by SpaceX today about its crew transportation system stresses that the agreement with Bigelow is for the non-U.S. market. They will first start their marketing efforts in Asia. Robert Bigelow said "We're very excited about working with our colleagues at SpaceX to present the unique services that our two companies can offer to international clientele. We're eager to join them overseas to discuss the substantial benefits that BA 330 leasing can offer in combination with SpaceX transportation capabilities." SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said "Together we will provide unique opportunities to entities -- whether nations or corporations -- wishing to have crewed access to the space environment for extended periods."
SpaceX was founded by Internet billionaire Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal, who serves as SpaceX's Chief Financial Officer and Chief Technical Officer. Robert Bigelow similarly is a billionaire who owns the hotel chain Budget Suites of America and is President of Bigelow Aerospace.
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