NASA has been seeking, since June officially, to place a commercial space station module and nearby free-flying platforms on the International
Space Station. There was a bit of a surprise, at least for those involved with the space industry, when NASA announced they had awarded the slot for
the first non-test, non-government owned module on the space station. Everyone had expected Bigelow Aerospace to be the winners. After all, they
have flown two self-sufficient orbital test articles and then placed a small test module on the International Space Station. That makes them the
front runners for winning the right to place the module, right?
Well, apparently not.
Axiom Space won the slot[2,3,4,5]. In fact, Axion is planning on using the ISS as the base of operations as they build out their own space
station. It will be built module by module on the ISS and then separated either before or at the time of the retirement of the International Space
Station. The Axiom based station looks like something evolved from the technology of the current space station rather than diverging like the Bigelow
In addition! Axiom has already booked its first flight to the ISS via a SpaceX Dragon 2 capsule[6,7].
Why didn't Bigelow actually get the contract? Bigelow has been around for far, far longer than Axiom has been. They have flown hardware already.
They have even attached a test module for the ISS and, well, it's still there. What just happened?
One of these is a groaner and the other is...interesting. The first is if you look at the 'leadership team' for Axiom and you will find a lot of
NASA veterans. Including a former head of NASA. That suggests two things: first off, they speak NASA. Navigating NASA's contracting is nontrivial
and these folks get it. And...it doesn't hurt to have all those ... personal relationships. cough,backroomdeal,cough
The driving reason though, according to Bigelow, was that NASA told him upfront what the budget was: $500M-ish. He felt that wasn't enough. This
is a surprise. He has argued he could do the thing for far, far less. Instead, he'll seek to bid on the free-fliers around the ISS, modules that
will not support long term habitation like the one attached directly to the space station. So, it was his to win and he chose not to run. We will
see if he actually builds a real space station off of the free fliers. Or will he bow out. again.
edit on 22-3-2020 by
anzha because: forgot a pic...oops.