[FPSPACE] Robert Bigelow's Space Plans[Scanned by MAIL]
Matula, Thomas L.
MATULAT at uhv.edu
Mon Mar 19 02:20:10 EST 2007
Actually, despite all the hollering by various space groups about space being a government preserve, 70% of space industry revenues are from commercial activities, namely the $110 billion dollars a year communication satellite industry. Government space spending is only 30% of revenues and shrinking as a percentage of space spending. So space today is mostly a private activity even if its invisible to policy makers and space advocates because of its very success. Indeed it has been this huge private launch market that has been driving the development of ELV systems in the last 25 years.
Today the only sectors the government still holds dominance in space spending is in the space exploration sector and the human space flight sector and that is simply because neither humans in space or space exploration add any value to the corporate bottom line. So, just as most of space science and all military space activities are done by robotic systems the vast majority of space commerce activities are robotic. This to me has always been the huge flaw in those pushing for private human space flight activities, namely the lack of economic drivers for them.
Technology has replaced the huge human run communication space stations envisioned by Arthur C. Clarkes Island Earth with hundreds of small automated satellites. Lunar commerce, including lunar mining, will be no different when the private sector gets involved. Successful business firms dont let passions about human space flight get in the way of the bottom line which is exactly why they are successful. In true space commerce humans will have to earn their way into space by adding value to the business model.
Bigelow is now recognizing that and also recognizing that the only stable market for sending humans to his space stations will be national governments that want the prestige of having astronauts but lack the technology, funding or will to develop their own space systems. His offering his space stations to these governments is a smart move and an acknowledgement that at current prices the orbital space tourist market is just too limited in size to close a business plan around. Similarly humans appear to add little value to commercial Zero-G research in materials and biology in orbit and so that market is not opening as well. The number of private individuals willing and able to spend 20 million or so for a flight also appear to be too limited to repay the R&D needed for developing a dedicated launch system for them. I suspect even the sub-orbital space tourists systems will have a hard time closing their business models successfully, as least based on research I have done based on econometric models of new market development and what they will need to get their vehicles certified. So really private human space flight is an industry driven by passion, not economics, at the moment. Its kinda of sad to see so much money chasing it when solid sub-orbital business models based on existing models are ignored.
The question now is if a nation flying its astronauts to a commercial Bigelow station will have the same prestige (create the same value) as launching them into orbit on a national launch system will have. Probably not. And unfortunately that will probably be the major factor in determining if the sovereign market will be the application that will successful close his business model. The other will be if there is research to be done that a national astronaut will add value to. However in both cases ITAR may be a sticking point, along with the lack of systems to get the astronauts to his stations. Along these lines its interesting to note he also talked about using a docking adapter that would allow the Soyuz to dock with one of his stations. That would of course be one way to get foreign national astronauts, or space tourists, to his station if the U.S. industry fails to develop commercial capsules to serve Bigelows needs.
BTW in the interview he also mentioned the options of using modules to expand the room available of the ISS, which is full circle to what NASA was doing the original research on inflatables for. I wonder if any of the ISS partners will be future customers for just that purpose. That would be a very interesting development.
From: Sven Grahn [mailto:svengrahn at telia.com]
Sent: Mon 3/19/2007 12:24 AM
To: Matula, Thomas L.; FPSPACE at friends-partners.org
Subject: Re: [FPSPACE] Robert Bigelow's Space Plans[Scanned by MAIL]
"Sovereign Customers"! Yet another grand "private" space plan whose business
plan relies on government funding... My heart sank yet another time...
I hope I am wrong.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Matula, Thomas L." <MATULAT at uhv.edu>
To: <FPSPACE at friends-partners.org>
Sent: Sunday, March 18, 2007 10:32 PM
Subject: [FPSPACE] Robert Bigelow's Space Plans
Robert Bigelow was the featured guest on the Art Bell show last night. The
link to the site is
Robert Bigelow spent the 4 hour show talking about his space plans. He also
gave a preview of a major announcement he is planning for the Space
Foundation Conference in April, which is he will be pursing "Sovereign
Customers" into addition to Space Tourists. Sovereign Customers are nation
state astronauts who will fly to his space stations under funding from their
Unfortunately you will have to subscribe to the show to download the audio
files to listen to the Interview ($6.95/month). It was in the second hour of
the show that he made the announcement which I think is a significant move
that will help close his business case. Although private customers with the
money to fly to space stations are few and far between, the number of
nations that would like the opportunity for sending their nationals into
space is likely to be fairly large for the usual geopolitical reasons, and
they are much more able to pay for such services.
Also, at the bottom of the page above are numerous photos of Robert
Bigelow's plant and spacecraft systems. The direct link to them are
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