Bigelow’s Fares Show SpaceX Trumps Boeing on Price

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LAS VEGAS — Visitors to Bigelow Aerospace’s planned orbital outpost can save more than $10 million by choosing to fly aboard a Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Dragon capsule instead of a Boeing CST-100 space taxi, a price difference that may foreshadow what NASA would be charged to fly astronauts to the international space station by the commercial providers.

Both companies’ capsules are being developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program, which is aimed at finding a U.S. alternative to flying astronauts on Russian Soyuz spacecraft, a service that costs about $63 million per person and is the only transportation to the station available since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011.

A third commercial space taxi backed by NASA, Sierra Nevada Corp.’s winged Dream Chaser, is not suited for flights to Bigelow’s planned habitats, which require crew and cargo on the same mission, company founder and president Robert Bigelow told SpaceNews.

A round-trip ride and 60-day stay aboard Bigelow’s planned Alpha Station, an inflatable habitat based on technology originally developed by NASA, would cost between $26.25 million and $36.75 million depending on which transportation provider a client chooses.

“For countries, companies, or even visiting individuals that wish to utilize SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule, Bigelow Aerospace will be able to transport an astronaut to the Alpha Station for only $26.25 million,” Bigelow Aerospace wrote in newly released marketing materials.

“Using Boeing’s CST-100 capsule and the Atlas V rocket, astronauts can be launched to the Alpha Station for $36.75 million per seat,” the company said.

A third option is for Boeing to launch its capsule on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Robert Bigelow added in an interview with SpaceNews.

“We expect those figures to be maintained, if they are not going to be reduced, which they may, through the rest of the decade — 2019 or 2020,” he said.

Any of those alternatives would be less than the price Russia and its U.S. partner Space Adventures charge to fly privately paying passengers to the space station. The last adventure traveler to make the trip, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, reportedly paid about $40 million for an 11-day spaceflight in 2009.

NASA and Boeing have declined to disclose how much rides on CST-100 capsules will eventually cost. SpaceX has said its target price for crewed Dragon flights is $140 million, which breaks down to $20 million per seat if the maximum number of seven crew members are aboard.

In addition to transportation costs, Bigelow Aerospace unveiled fees to lease space aboard its planned BA-330 modules. A two-month block of time for one-third of a habitat, which is about the equivalent volume of one space station laboratory, will cost $25 million.

The company is targeting countries, space agencies and research institutes not currently involved in human spaceflight. It has preliminary agreements with organizations in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Sweden and the United Arab Emirate of Dubai.

Clients can use Bigelow habitats for autonomous or remotely controlled experiments, or they could fly company astronauts or private individuals to operate them. Customers also can sublease their space and resell their seats, Bigelow said.

Other revenue could come from promotions, marketing, advertising and naming rights to the station. For example, Bigelow wants $25 million for naming rights to the full station or $12.5 million for half the station per year.

That part of the business is in its early stages.

“Our first thing was to gear up leasing-purchasing agreements and we just finished that,” Bigelow said.

“This [transportation costs] has been a moving target. Only late last year did we get the definitive numbers that we’ve been satisfied will hold still, that we think are going to be good, from these companies,” he said.

In addition to two prototypes already in orbit, Bigelow has an agreement with NASA to attach a third test module to the international space station. Launch of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, is targeted for 2015.

Depending on funding, SpaceX and Boeing plan to have their spaceships certified and ready to be put into service before the end of 2017. By then, NASA may not be their only customer. Bigelow is hoping to launch its first operational module in 2016.