The trump administration’s plan to withdraw NASA funding from the International Space Station has gotten a number of interesting reactions. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida has declared that he will fight, which seems to be a default setting for the senator on every issue ranging from offshore drilling to the appointment of Jim Bridenstine as NASA administrator. However, one space entrepreneur who stands to benefit from the policy move, Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace, had a more nuanced and positive reaction.

Nelson vows to fight Trump

Likely reacting before he thought things through, Senator Nelson blasted the administration’s plan with a press release he repeated in a tweet:

Nelson, who is attempted to derail the appointment of Jim Bridenstine, a young, reformer, as NASA administrator is flirting with becoming the William Proxmire, a foe of all space exploration in the 20th Century, for the current era.

The senator has cast himself as the guardian of the Kennedy Space Center. However, the effects of his opposition may be to obstruct President Trump’s return to the moon program and, ironically, a great deal of benefit to aerospace workers and companies in his state,

Bigelow sees an opportunity

Robert Bigelow, who has been developing a Commercial Space Station using inflatable modules, ironically with technology licensed from NASA, sees an opportunity:

Bigelow already has a prototype inflatable module attached to the ISS.

He plans to start launching the B-330, a vast inflatable module that will serve as the basis of a commercial space station, in 2021, a full four years before the Trump White House plans to pull NASA out of the ISS. Bigelow’s tweet suggests that he is more than willing to step up and start a commercial sector in low Earth orbit, supported by private spacecraft such as the Boeing Starliner and the SpaceX Dragon 2, that were developed for the ISS.

Toward a private LEO industrial sector

Two other companies, Axiom, and Nanoracks, are planning commercial space stations. Axiom plans to start launching in 2022.

The trick, as Scott Pace, executive director of the National Space Council, is to develop a genuinely commercial space industry in low Earth orbit. The Trump administration would like to avoid a situation in which NASA is the sole or even principle customer of a commercial space station.

Companies like Bigelow and Axiom need to start developing private markets, everything from space tourism to manufacturing products in microgravity.

Having ceded space launches to low Earth orbit to the private sector with the retirement of the space shuttle, NASA proposes to do the same with LEO operations. The real problem is overcoming the objections of partisan politicians such as Bill Nelson who seem unable to see the opportunities of doing so.