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NASA awards contract to Bigelow Aerospace for inflatable ISS module

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January 13, 2013

Cutaway view of the Bigelow BA 2100 Expandable Space Module (Image: Bigelow Aerospace)

Cutaway view of the Bigelow BA 2100 Expandable Space Module (Image: Bigelow Aerospace)

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NASA has announced that it has awarded a US$17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide the International Space Station with an inflatable module. Details of the award will be discussed by NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and Bigelow Aerospace President Robert Bigelow at a press conference on January 16 at the Bigelow Aerospace facilities in North Las Vegas. However, based on previous talks, it’s likely that the module in question could be the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM).

The BEAM is an inflatable torus-shaped storage module based on NASA’s abandoned TransHab design that NASA and Bigelow claim could be sent into orbit within two years. If the final design is similar in size to the Bigelow BA 2100 module, then the BEAM will weigh 65,000 kg (143,000 lb) and, when inflated, will have a length of 17.8 m (58.4 ft) with a diameter of 12.6 m (41.3 ft). If so, it will be two and a half times the volume of the ISS itself. However, there are alternative designs available.

NASA is interested in the Bigelow inflatable modules because of its desire for cheaper, lighter space assets and because ground tests have indicated that the vectran fabric from which the modules are made shows superior resistance to micrometeors compared to rigid module walls.

Source: NASA

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
10 Comments

It is about time inflatable space habitats get a real test.

Slowburn
13th January, 2013 @ 10:05 pm PST

Great! This is *very* cool!

This seems like a very nicely-designed, elegant and robust module.

Now all that we need is to get a Skylon Mach 5 spaceplane to visit the ISS - that would *really* be something.... :)

mooseman
13th January, 2013 @ 11:07 pm PST

Perhaps with a future commercial space company could make the Skylon Mach 5 a reality.

I think it is not only cool but with it being cheaper and more durable a greater possibility of being achieved and used.

BigWarpGuy
14th January, 2013 @ 09:28 am PST

Considering the amount of space junk flowing around the earth,wouldn't be wiser to remove the space junk first,then try out a inflatable space module.

panzer225MAAZ
14th January, 2013 @ 09:44 am PST

@panzer they need a sustainable propulsion system to power an approachable sweeping motion of the space, kinda like a pac man except you want to run up on the junk rather than run at the junk or have the junk running at you. One way this could be done is with such as an inflatable technology that has attactive messing material that can either capture the space junk attractively or deflect it like a pinball machine out of its orbit to burn on re entry. Or if such huge firms really want to collect the space junk, they would hire a kid like me to consult them on designing the vacuum and recover all the high grade materials to be recycled back here on earth :)

JPLAZ1912
14th January, 2013 @ 11:14 am PST

I'd like to know how they will protect it from space debris I flake of dust travelling at subsonic speeds would go straight through it. If we Google "effects of space debris" you can see lots of images that reflect the damage, Its a huge problem.

Richard Unger
14th January, 2013 @ 11:18 am PST

panzer225MAAZ try actually reading the article:

"the vectran fabric from which the modules are made shows superior resistance to micrometeors compared to rigid module walls."

Jon Smith
14th January, 2013 @ 11:32 am PST

The BA2100 requires a much larger vehicle than anything available at this point. The BA2100 requires a Falcon X or better. There are quite a number of in depth discussions on this topic in the public forums on nasaspaceflight.com. Much more likely to go is something along the lines of a BA330, since that is what Bigelow is pushing now, and it can be launched on a Falcon Heavy.

Joe Fulton
14th January, 2013 @ 05:02 pm PST

Exactly Joe, I don't know why Gizmag immediately thought it would be Bigelow's massive space station concept, which is basically at a stand still until someone has the cojones to build such a massive rocket with a large enough fairing...I'm looking at you SpaceX...

As Joe said, its HIGHLY likely to be a BA330.

Derek Howe
14th January, 2013 @ 06:25 pm PST

Joe... you say "bigger"...

bigger like this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energia

Or like this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angara_rocket

:)

Charlie Nudelman
15th January, 2013 @ 09:53 am PST
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