Alan Boyle, at MSNBC, is writing that Space Adventures, which arranged for trips by such people as Anousheh Ansari and Richard Garriott to the International Space Station, has signed a commercial space deal with Boeing.
Boeing is working on its own manned spacecraft, the CST-100, to take as many as seven astronauts to the International Space Station at a time, for commercial space initiatives, first put forward by President George W. Bush, and now proposed for expansion by President Obama. A full announcement will take place Wednesday.
One of the criticisms of the Obama space commercialization initiative, which proposes to spend almost $6 billion to help develop commercial spacecraft to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station, is that it doesn’t help to develop private markets for such space craft. Boeing, which also has a tentative agreement to service the Bigelow commercial space station when it is deployed, seems to be attempting to answer this question.
Speculation about the deal between Boeing and Space Adventures is rampant. It is entirely possible that Space Adventures will attempt to replicate with Boeing the same arrangement it had with Russia, to buy empty seats on the Boeing spacecraft and sell them to the well-heeled and adventurous for $30 million jaunts to the ISS.
If and when the Bigelow space station, based around inflatable modules, becomes reality, Space Adventures might sell jaunts to that facility as well.
Another possibility is using the Boeing space ship as a kind of space-going cruise ship, taking four or so paying customers at a time for trips into low Earth orbit, a more ambitious and, likely, more expensive version of the suborbital jaunts being developed by Virgin Galactic.
If the Space Adventures/Boeing deal works, then a whole new market for commercial space could open up. SpaceX, to remain competitive with its one commercial space ship, the Dragon, will be forced to create similar private services.
How will such a market for private space jaunts develop? It is the hope of many space advocates that as technology becomes more refined and as more commercial space flights are launched, the cost of space travel will come down, expanding the number of people who will be able to afford it. That in turn will enable the development of destinations for such space travelers to go to, such as orbiting hotels and resorts, for instance.
Two potential obstacles, both of government-making, could delay or even derail the development of those commercial space sector.
On the one hand, the Obama administration could stifle the growth of commercial launch firms by paying them too much in subsidies, deeming them too important to fail. Competition and the inevitable shakeout is necessary for private businesses to exist, prosper, and improve. Only the possibility of failure, which would be prevented by federal bailouts, can breed success.
On the other hand, in reaction to some of the onerous provisions of the Obama space proposal, Congress could choose not to provide any seed money or promise of contracts to nascent commercial space firms at. This too would be a grave mistake. Using the servicing of the ISS as a core market could help to enable a commercial space transportation industry, just as commercial delivery of air mail helped to develop air lines in the 1930s.
But if the commercial space sector can navigate between the shoals of Obama administration excess on the one hand and possible congressional stinginess on the other, it could grow and help to open up at least low Earth orbit to private travel and commercial development.
Source: Boeing teams up with space tour firm, Alan Boyle, Cosmic Log/MSNBC, September 9th, 2010
Why Obama’s Commercial Space Initiative is Not Commercial, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, September 6th, 2010