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Kate Rubins in BEAM module
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins conducts tests and replaces parts inside the International Space Station’s Bigelow Expandable Activity Module in 2016. (NASA Photo)

Just days after NASA laid out its ground rules for commercial travel to the International Space Station, Nevada-based Bigelow Space Operations says it’s targeting a fare of roughly $52 million a seat for rides that will make use of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule.

Bigelow Space Operations is the service subsidiary of Bigelow Aerospace, the space venture founded by Nevada real-estate development magnate Robert Bigelow. Three years ago, Bigelow Aerospace had one of its expandable modules attached to the space station for testing, and it’s still being used.

Following up on Friday’s NASA announcement, Bigelow said his company has put down substantial deposits and reservation fees for up to four SpaceX launches to the space station. Each launch would be capable of sending up to four people into orbit for a stay of up to one or two months, in accordance with the space agency’s ground rules.

Bigelow, who holds the title of president at Bigelow Aerospace as well as Bigelow Space Operations, said NASA’s requirements would be thoroughly digested “so that all opportunities and obligations to properly conduct the flights and activities of new astronauts to the ISS can be responsibly performed.”

“In these early times, the seat cost will be targeted at approximately $52,000,000 per person,” he wrote in a statement released today.

That cost presumably doesn’t include the roughly $35,000-a-night fee that NASA plans to charge as reimbursement for station-related expenses such as life support and food.

“The next big question is, when is this all going to happen?” Bigelow wrote. “Once the SpaceX rocket and capsule are certified by NASA to fly people to the ISS, then this program can begin.  As you might imagine, as they say, ‘the devil is in the details,’ and there are many. But we are excited and optimistic that all of this can come together successfully, and BSO has skin in the game.”

Bigelow isn’t the only one with skin in the game: Virginia-based Space Adventures says it will be selling seats on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule, which will be launched on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. Neither Space Adventures nor Boeing has named a precise price, but Boeing spokesman Josh Barrett told GeekWire last week that NASA’s estimate of $58 million per seat was in the right ballpark.

In contrast to the full-flight reservations that Bigelow has with SpaceX, Space Adventures plans to sell the “fifth seat” on Starliner trips that will take four NASA-funded astronauts to the space station. Private-sector astronauts would fly alongside public-sector astronauts.

The first crewed Starliner mission to the space station will set the model for this arrangement: Boeing test pilot Chris Ferguson, a former space shuttle commander, will be flying as a private astronaut alongside NASA’s Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke.

That mission, and SpaceX’s first crewed Dragon trip to the station, are currently expected to take place by the end of this year – with the caveat that the flight schedule has repeatedly slipped and may well do so again. Only after those demonstration flights will NASA assess the space taxis’ performance and issue certification for regular service.

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