Thursday, April 12, 2007

Privatizing the Space Age

Photo of Genesis I, Bigelow Aerospace's Prototype Space Station, now in orbit.

Space is not for just big government anymore. Flying somehow under the big media radar a major turning point is being passed in the Age of Space. Private companies are sending space stations into space.

According to the Washington Post yesterday, “Private space exploration took a potentially significant step forward this week as Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace announced plans to send a series of inflatable space stations into orbit over the next decade.”

The announcement comes at a heady time for private space entrepreneurs. The rocket company SpaceX, founded by Pay Pal billionaire Elon Musk, had its most successful test launch to date last month. Voters in New Mexico this month passed a referendum to raise taxes to help build a spaceport for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space tourism company.

This is historic. For the first half century of the Space Age, Space has been primarily a government activity. Because of this, space exploration has been subject to the vagaries of politics and partisan pressures. The advent of private enterprise in both the launch of vehicles but the maintenance of complexes in orbit (as opposed to just satellites), means several things.

  • Costs are coming down.
  • Exploration and development decisions can be more free of government constraints than before.
  • Competition will motivate business to lower costs and improve performance.

"We think the time will come when orbiting space complexes won't be considered a novelty, but a necessity," said Bigelow's president, Robert Bigelow, who made a fortune as founder of Budget Suites hotel chain.

"When the first satellites went up, they were a novelty, too," he said. "Now they are a major business with enormous commercial importance. This is a logical next step."

With spaceports, launch vehicles, satellites, and now space stations, the privatization of space launches a new era for all mankind.

Here is further information.