Bigelow Urges Lunar COTS Program, Wants Moon Property Rights Review

Artist's conception of a Bigelow lunar habitat. (Credit: Bigelow Aerospace)
Artist’s conception of a Bigelow lunar habitat. (Credit: Bigelow Aerospace)

A report by Bigelow Aerospace that was commissioned by NASA urges the U.S. space agency to take a commercial approach to lunar transportation  similar to the one used to develop transport services to the International Space Station, according to published reports.

Company founder Robert Bigelow, who has ambitious plans for private space stations and lunar bases, said on Tuesday that he will be applying to the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Tranportation (AST) for a policy review of lunar property rights by the end of this year, Jeff Foust reports from Washington, DC.

Bigelow and and NASA’s Associate Administrator Human Explorations and Operations William Gerstenmaier discussed the findings of the report during a press availability in the nation’s capital. The report was produced under a Space Act Agreement between NASA and the company.

The event was not streamed for reporters outside of Washington. Foust attended and also obtained an advanced copy of the document. His report on the document is here. Excerpts of his Tweets from the event are below.

According to Foust, the document urges that NASA adopt an approach similar to the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, which paid SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation to develop cargo freighters to supply the International Space Station.

The COTS phase was followed by Commercial Resupply Service contracts, in which NASA is paying SpaceX and Orbital to deliver cargo to the station. The companies were paid for achieving milestones, and they have maintained ownership of the launch vehicles and cargo ships.

It’s not entirely clear how a lunar COTS model would fit into NASA’s deep space exploration plans, which are focused on sending astronauts to an asteroid in the 2020’s.

Jeff Foust ‏@jeff_foust

  • Handout at the Bigelow/NASA event. Not a lunar passport but a pocket-sized copy of the Outer Space Treaty.
  • Here’s a preview of the event, based on advance copy of the report:
  • Bigelow, setting the stage: America as a gov’t is no longer ambitious, especially when compared to China.
  • Bigelow: This is not 1961, folks. American gov’t and NASA cannot afford to be challenged as they were then.
  • Bigelow: lunar base as done under business as usual is utterly and absolutely politically and financially impossible.
  • Bigelow: comm’l space capabilities growing, but needs an anchor customer to take business beyond LEO.
  • Bigelow: can NASA build upon the success of COTS and take the next step?
  • Bigelow: to make application to FAA/AST for policy review of lunar property rights before the end of this year.
  • [Presumably as part of launch license for future Bigelow module.]
  • Now it’s NASA’s Bill Gerstenmaier’s turn: entered into Space Act Agreement w/Bigelow to have another look at what we’re doing.
  • Gerst: we learned a lot of things from the report; we’ll take a look at it, factor in the considerations. It was a good exercise.
  • Gerst’s comments about the report were pretty vague about content and how NASA will use it.
  • Bigelow said they’re “engaged in a number of areas” to follow up on the report, both technically and poltiically, but few add’l details.