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Private Firm Shoots for the Moon: Calls for Property Rights Regime

BEAM mounted on ISS. Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

At a press conference today, representatives of NASA and Bigelow Aerospace discussed the options for commercial sector involvement in space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.

Under a NASA Space Act Agreement, Bigelow Aerospace of North Las Vegas, Nevada has scoped out joint cooperation between corporate and NASA interests for human space exploration and development.

Bigelow Aerospace (BA) is keen on placing a lunar base on the surface of the Moon.

In their report released today, BA told NASA: “Today, an exclusive NASA lunar base program is not possible much less hosting a barbeque on Mars.”

Skin in the game

In their “Joint Outbound Enterprise” report, BA called for NASA to “joint venture” with companies and draw upon the skill sets of private sector entrepreneurs.

NASA’s commercial goals might be “foster the growth of American companies that are responsive to having their own financial ‘skin in the game’ the BA report notes.

A key message relayed to NASA by BA today is that without property rights, any plan to engage the private sector in long-term, beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) activities will ultimately fail.

Property rights regime

“The first beyond LEO destination that will unquestionably be the focus of any property rights regime will be the Moon,” the BA report says. “As the closest near Earth object, the Moon offers the predictability, permanency, and potential value that the private sector will demand.”

By leveraging a property rights regime, private sector facilities could be developed on the Moon which NASA could subsequently take advantage of for a wide variety of astronautics and scientific activities.

“Our hope and expectation is that many of the concepts described in the report will be translated into action,” said Mike Gold, Director of Washington, D.C. Operations and Business Growth for Bigelow Aerospace. “Specifically, the lunar property rights regime and the continued use of the commercial model beyond low Earth orbit.”

“With private property rights, we can shoot the Moon,” Gold told this Coalition reporter.

Permanent, semi-commercial lunar base

Gold said that in order to incentivize the private sector in terms of pushing forward on advanced technologies, “property rights stand out as a tried and true concept” and a concept that “has inspired exploration and investment throughout human history.”

So far, BA has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on its own to create and mature expandable space module technology.

At the start of the year, NASA awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which is scheduled to arrive at the space station in 2015 for a two-year technology demonstration.

In today’s report, BA advised NASA that by working with the private sector over the next 10 years, “a permanent, semi-commercial lunar base is achievable and for substantially less money than people would imagine.”

By Leonard David

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