Los Angeles, CA, July 13, 2006 – The Space Frontier Foundation congratulated Bigelow Aerospace on the successful launch of its Genesis 1 inflatable space module Wednesday. Placed in orbit aboard a Russian Dnepr rocket, the 8 foot diameter (when inflated) test module presages ever larger components of what will eventually become the world’s first commercially built and operated space station.
“Small steps and giant leaps. That is what the opening of a frontier is all about,” said the Foundation’s Rick Tumlinson. “This small step towards the creation of an orbital station is actually part of a giant leap forward in the opening of space.”
The Genesis test module is a 1/3 scale model of the full size Nautilus module Bigelow plans to launch in a few years, which, when fully inflated, will enclose the volume of a three bedroom house. Bigelow Aerospace, located in Las Vegas, Nevada, has been working for several years to develop the inflatable concept, which is based on designs it licensed from NASA several years ago. The Foundation sees this as a demonstration of how taxpayer funded research can benefit the private sector, and how business can take ideas started in government and turn them into economic realities benefiting all.
“This project shows that if NASA works with the private sector in the right way, amazing things happen,” said Tumlinson. “Robert Bigelow took an idea pioneered in government labs and with his own hard earned money turned it into a reality. When the full-size structure opens its airlocks to the first guests, America will be opening a new era in space, where private citizens, from hotel guests to commercial scientists can join government employees on this important frontier.”
The Bigelow effort is part of what the Foundation calls the NewSpace industry, encompassing a wide range of entrepreneurially driven efforts built on the legacy of the U.S. space program, creating an economically profitable human presence in space. It believes the U.S. should do all it can to encourage this trend by, for example, supporting the growth of commercial space transportation firms. Unfortunately, the U.S. has offered little support for them, favoring instead giant government led projects like the current NASA Crew Exploration Vehicle, which keep costs high and limit access to space.
“While we salute his Russian partners, it is sad that Bigelow had to go to offshore to get an affordable launch for this test, and that he may be dependent on foreign ships to carry his passengers when his full scale station opens for business,” stated Tumlinson. “The U.S. has the chance right now to kick start a vibrant NewSpace transportation industry, which will save taxpayers billions of dollars and support initiatives like this, but it will require a much stronger effort on the part of the government than we now see.”
The Foundation believes Nautilus and other possible private facilities will serve as destinations for NewSpace transport firms, which combined with government transport needs will spur the growth of a space transportation market. Eventually the bottom line driven NewSpace industry will not require taxpayer support at all, but will lead to an entire new commercial economy in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) producing jobs, products and breakthroughs of all sorts, from materials to medicines and perhaps even new energy sources.
Tumlinson concluded: “Imagine, in ten years we will have fleets of commercial space ships carrying people and products to and from commercial space facilities, be they hotels, research labs or industrial plants producing new products that can only be made in space. With projects like this beginning to happen, it is clear NASA’s Lewis and Clarks have done their job here in LEO. It is time for them to move onward and outwards, and let the people take over here in the near frontier.”
Robert Bigelow will be speaking at the Foundation’s NewSpace 2006 Conference in Las Vegas July 19-23, 2006.