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.