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Bigelow announces plans for private astronauts to the space station – Spaceflight Now

NASA Astronauts Bob Behnken (in the foreground) and Doug Hurley (in the background) train in the crew dragon simulator to fly to the International Space Station. Credit: SpaceX / NASA

Bigelow Space Operations claims to charge $ 52 million for space to send private astronauts to the International Space Station aboard the Crew Dragon ferry ships, and has already paid "significant sums" of SpaceX for up to four dedicated crew missions to the orbiting research complex.

This announcement was announced on June 7 by Robert Bigelow, rich founder of Bigelow Aerospace and Bigelow Space Operations based in Nevada, a few hours after NASA revealed plans to use the International Space Station to commercialize the low Earth's orbit for spaceflight.

Bigelow said his company made preliminary payments to SpaceX in September 2018.

These (four) premieres are dedicated flights, each of which transports up to four people for one to two months at the ISS, "wrote Bigelow.

One of the assumptions of the NASA plan is to open a space station for private astronauts, along with the initiative to create a docking port at the station available for the commercial module. According to the new space agency policy, a space station could host up to two commercial astronauts a year, each with multiple passengers on board.

Depending on the number of seats occupied in commercial crew vehicles, a space station could accommodate "potentially a dozen private astronauts a year," said Robyn Gatens, deputy director of the space station program at NASA headquarters during a post-week ad in New York.

The commercial Crew Dragon and Starliner crew capsules developed by SpaceX and Boeing can carry up to seven astronauts per flight. In the case of NASA dedicated missions, four astronauts will go by spacecraft to and from the station with the cargo.

International Space Station. Source: NASA / Roscosmos

In a written statement Bigelow did not say when dedicated flights for private astronauts could fire, or if Bigelow secured the clients' obligations to fly to the station.

"BSO is excited about NASA's announcements from last Friday," wrote Bigelow. "BSO demonstrated its sincerity and commitment to implementing NASA plans for commercializing ISS through the implementation of contracts for launch in September last year.

"The BSO intends to thoroughly digest all information that was dispersed last week, so that all the possibilities and commitments to properly conduct flights and activities of new astronauts on the ISS could be responsibly performed," wrote Bigelow.

Bigelow founded Bigelow Space Operations in 2018. To oversee commercial space stations developed by the sister company Bigelow Aerospace, which he founded in 1999, to design and manufacture expandable modules to create habitats in the pressure space.

According to Bigelow, the initial cost of commercial astronauts travel to the International Space Station will be about USD 52 million per person.

"Another big question is: when will all this happen? When the SpaceX rocket and capsule get a NASA certificate to send people to the ISS, this program can begin – wrote Bigelow.

"As you can imagine, as they say," the devil is in the details, "and there are many," wrote Bigelow. "But we are excited and optimistic that all this can work, and BSO has skin in the game."

NASA said on June 7 that, in addition to transportation costs, the space agency will be charging around $ 35,000 per day for astronauts to use the life support of the space station, communications, power and other systems. It was not clear whether Bigelow's $ 52 million price included accommodation costs at the station or only transport services.

The Dragon Cosmic spacecraft withdraws from the International Space Station after undocking on March 8 at the end of the six-day demonstration mission. Credit: SpaceX

Despite recent delays, NASA still expects at least one of the commercial crew capsules to fly astronauts to the space station by the end of the year, and then it will launch regular crew rotation missions in 2020.

The Space Capsule Crew Dragon completed its first test flight without station to the station in March, but the spacecraft was destroyed during a test accident on the ground in April, when the engineers prepared it for the interrupt test that was scheduled for this summer.

The teams will prepare the second Crew Dragon spacecraft, which was previously assigned to transport astronauts to the station, for a high-altitude break test. The third crew dragon from the SpaceX assembly line in Hawthorne, California will now be used for the next test flight to the space station with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and onboard Doug Hurley.

Target start dates of the astronauts' interrupt and flight tests that fly off Florida on the Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket are under review.

Meanwhile, Boeing is preparing its first test flight Starliner to take off from Cape Canaveral already in mid-August aboard the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 missile. The non-piloted mission docked with the space station and returns to Earth to parachute in the western United States.

If this mission goes well, Boeing can launch Starliner's second test flight with astronauts already in November.

Both crew capsules are developed and powered by NASA funds. The space agency has multi-billion contracts with SpaceX and Boeing covering the design, development and demonstration of each spacecraft, and six crew rotation missions by each contractor until the early 2020s.

The debut of Crew Dragon and Starliner will end the only reliance of NASA on Russian astronaut crew ships to the space station.

According to recent contracts with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, NASA pays over $ 80 million for a return flight on the Soyuz. NASA claims that the average cost of Crew Dragon and Starliner flights is around $ 58 million.

Bigelov's published survey suggests that a private astronaut trip will cost slightly less than the NASA astronauts' flight.

Boeing entered into a deal with Space Adventures to fly private astronauts on Starliner's mission to the space station. Space Adventures organized the first space flight in 2001. With the American businessman Dennis Tito, who spent almost eight days in space while traveling on the ISS aboard the Russian Soyuz ship.

"We are excited about today's NASA announcement and we welcome NASA's efforts in the consulting industry to inform NASA's strategy and policy. Space Adventures is delighted that in this process is a key factor in NASA "- the company said in a statement from June 7.

Space Adventures has recently organized a cosmic tourist mission in 2009 with the Canadian artist and entrepreneur Guy Laliberté. The company said last week that it is now able to book flights to the station on Soyuz or Starliner missions.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.

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