Questions about Bigelow’s plans

Yesterday, as expected, Bigelow Aerospace announced details about its business plan. Some of those details were released in the earlier Aviation Week article, although company founder Robert Bigelow issued for the first time some pricing information: a four-week trip for a “sovereign client”—an astronaut from a national space agency—would cost $14,950,000 (in 2012 dollars), including transportation to and from the outpost. Bigelow will also lease half or full modules to “prime clients”—large corporations—for up to $88 million a year for a full (300-cubic-meter) module. (He also made it clear—again—that they are not a “space hotel” company, although he said he would be happy to talk with companies like Virgin Galactic interested in using the modules as such.)

One big question about his plans is what sort of transportation will be available to and from the modules. By 2015, Bigelow estimates that his company will need up to 30 launches a year to ferry passengers to and from the modules (as well as launching new modules). Bigelow admits that transportation is “the long pole in the tent” with a lot of uncertainty about who will be able to provide that level of activity: he did seem willing to work with any potential providers, provided that they meet his preferences, such as flying 6-8 people at a time and have a dry landing versus a splashdown. A second question is just how big the market is for this, particularly for prime clients: how many companies are interested in leasing a space lab? Bigelow admitted that they’re just now ramping up their sales and marketing efforts, and have yet to start talking with potential customers. What other major obstacles do you think are out there for Bigelow’s plan?

6 comments to Questions about Bigelow’s plans

  • Chance

    Well, as much as I hope there is a market, hope is not a business plan. Are there really dozens of companies that want and/or need to be in space, but gosh darn it, just can’t get there? I wanna see lists. I want to know what ADM or Google or Pfizer has a powerpoint presentation set up asking the board to approve the launch of their own private astronaut corps. Even if some company discovers a way to make a break through drug in microgravity, you then have to turn around and figure out how to mass produce it on earth. Seems like a high risk/relatively low reward strategy.

    As for “soveriegn” astronauts, what’s to keep them from buying a seat on the Soyuz right now? Is a 6 million dollar differance really what’s keeping 60-70 countries away? Is Honduras really itching to put a estrellanaut on a BA 330? I just don’t know.

  • Ray

    Chance: For what it’s worth (originally found through Spaceref):

    Company to Focus on Space Based Manufacturing

    Houston, Texas, April 10, 2007 – SPACEHAB, Incorporated (NASDAQ: SPAB), a leading provider of commercial space services, today announced plans to develop a new company division that will focus on manufacturing pharmaceuticals and materials in space for distribution into the commercial marketplace.

    With a 22-year heritage of processing and transporting over a thousand experiments to low Earth orbit, SPACEHAB plans to leverage the company’s deep understanding of microgravity science and payload processing into a new focus towards on-orbit manufacturing for both intercompany initiatives and as a service provider for other customers.

    … etc … (see the link for the rest). This is targeted to the ISS, but one could at least imagine it spreading to commercial stations.

  • Chance

    Thanks Ray. Maybe a sucessful demonstration of manufacturing capability by Spacehab will spur other companies to do the same.

  • Peter Shearer

    While reading Bigelow’s plan I got jitterbugz cause I was SO excited! I don’t think I’ve been this excited since I first heard about SS1!!!

    If he (they) can pull it off… oh man, exciting times to be living in! I know it might take a while for a little guy like me to get up there but his plans are so ambitious I can’t help but think… This… Is… Going… To… Happen…


  • Ron

    “what’s to keep them from buying a seat on the Soyuz right now?”

    Only two Soyuz flights a year and only two Soyuz passenger seats a year.

    Bigelow’s aiming for about 30 launches a year!

  • Chance

    Well, I saw this quote from Mr. Bigelow that I rather like: “We have no idea what the size of the market is,” Bigelow said. “Our goal is to be the Hudson Bay Co. in terms of space destinations.”

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