Bigelow Aerospace has revealed that a subsidiary of the company, Bigelow Space Operations (BSO) has secured four dedicated SpaceX Crew Dragon launches to the International Space Station (ISS). The company will utilise the launches to offer seats to commercial customers.
In a statement published on the company’s website on June 7, BSO confirmed it had paid “substantial sums as deposits and reservation fees to secure up to four SpaceX launches”. According to the company, it will offer each seat at a cost of approximately $52 million.
Despite the announcement, it is unclear exactly where these missions would fit into NASA’s plans to commercialise the station. On June 7, the agency announced that it would begin “private astronaut missions” to the ISS by 2020. However, it has thus far capped the maximum number of private astronaut missions a year to just two. As a result, it seems unlikely BSO will act as a third party vendor for these missions.
Previously, the company has proposed launching its own ISS module, designated B330. The module is 6.7 by 16.8 meters and will have a maximum crew capacity of six. The module would be docked with the ISS, which will likely supply additional power and resources such as water and oxygen to the module. However, NASA recently tapped 12 companies to pursue the commercialisation of low Earth orbit including the ISS and neither Bigelow Aerospace or BSO was selected.
A third option may be that BSO plans to launch customers to its own space station. The company has previously revealed plans to build Alpha Station. The station is constructed by joining two or more B330 modules together. This would offer the station enough volume to house all of the support systems required to sustain a crew. Again, it is unlikely this is what BSO has in mind as the press release referenced earlier clearly stated the SpaceX Crew Dragon launch would be “to the International Space Station.”
With SpaceX still working towards launching the first crewed demonstration mission of the Crew Dragon, it will likely be several years before BSO can begin operations.