29 September 2004
Other - Other (None)
Bigelow Announces "America's Space Prize"
Winner must design vehicle for 7
by G B Leatherwood
by G.B. Leatherwood

Multimillionaire hotel owner Robert Bigelow isn’t satisfied with providing a “room with a view” here on Earth. Over the years he has gotten increasingly frustrated with the agonizingly slow plodding toward a human presence in space, other than multibillion dollar expenditures that so far have allowed only two people other than government specialists, Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth, to experience space—even in low earth orbit.

So he’s taking matters into his own hands.

On September 27, 2004, Bigelow, owner of the Budget Hotel Chain, announced a $50 million prize, called “America’s Space Prize,” for the first successful vehicle capable of carrying up to seven astronauts to an orbital outpost by the end of the decade. According to reports, he is putting up $25 million of his own money and seeking backers for the remaining amount.

And what is this outpost? Bigelow’s own orbiting space station, as reported in a Space.com article. In this article, Bigelow is quoted as saying, “…the private space station would be a destination for space tourists and could be used for drug firms and other manufacturers who benefit from a zero-gravity environment.”

In a related article from Space.com, Staff Writer Tariq Malik said, “Bigelow’s plan would challenge teams to build spacecraft capable of more than just suborbital hops, such as maneuvering and docking abilities with Bigelow habitats more than 100 miles (162 kilometers) above Earth and reentering Earth’s atmosphere at 17,500 miles (28,163 kilometers) an hour.”

It appears that Mr. Bigelow is combining incentive to build vehicles capable of orbital maneuvers, docking, and reentry with his plans for one or more “space hotels,” not a surprising combination considering his success in the retail hotel business.

Yet another Space.com article reported that Bigelow’s company, Bigelow Aerospace, has developed preliminary plans for a cruise ship roughly half a mile from end to end that will rotate slowly to create artificial gravity close to 40 per cent that of Earth so that passengers will not experience the unsettling discomforts of complete weightlessness. This cruise ship will be placed in orbit around the Moon to give passengers not only unprecedented views of the lunar surface but also much larger and more varied looks at Earth and the stars.

Bigelow says such tourism will “get Uncle Sam out of the field as the exclusive owner of space.” He already has an exclusive agreement with NASA for two patents to commercial development of inflatable technology formerly used for studies in the now-defunct TransHab project.

However, all of the hurdles have not been surmounted. Bigelow said the political and legal hurdles to launching such a station will be far greater than the technological difficulties. One report indicated that since NASA is not a regulatory agency, the FAA would have jurisdiction over the project, and since it is so unique and unprecedented, the agency has no forms or application process. Once again space tourism may be bogged down with bureaucracy, not technology or engineering.

We are reminded of what Joe Latrell, founder and CEO of Beyond-Earth Enterprises, previously featured on this site and whose team has now successfully launched two more of their privately-built rockets, said about how to deal with the government: “Dealing with the bureaucracy is easy—you just ask them what they want and give it to them. I’d much rather be building rockets than dealing with suits.”
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G B Leatherwood 29 September 2004
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