Someone Please Tell George Abbey About Bigelow

A Boeing CST-100 crew module docks at a Bigelow Aerospace space station. (Credit: Boeing)

The Houston Chronicle has a puzzling interview with George Abbey, the former NASA Johnson Space Center director who is now a senior fellow in space policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Abbey calls SpaceX’s test flight last week “a great achievement,” advocates keeping the space shuttle flying until a replacement is fielded, and demonstrates a narrow perspective on the market for commercial human spaceflight:

Q: The goal is to free up NASA funds for deep space exploration, but given the limitations, how likely are these public-private partnerships to actually save money?

A: Right now, the only customer is the government, which would be supporting these missions to the space station. If you look at the commercial market, it’s going to be very difficult getting the companies where they can get a return based on their own investment. The only customer now, and in the immediate future, is the government.

Abbey admits that the orbital space tourism market could create demand, but he’s skeptical about it. As for demand, he’s right that government is the only customer “in the immediate future.”

However, what neither Abbey nor writer Jeannie Kever mentions are the multiple private space stations (Bigelow, Excalibur Almaz, Galactic Suites, etc.) which would benefit from reliable, affordable and redundant crew and cargo transports. These facilities are not just targeted at the space tourism market. NASA is taking on some risk in investing in commercial crew, but the potential payoffs if these projects succeed are enormous.