Bigelow Aerospace

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ULA, Bigelow Aerospace team up to launch world’s first commercial space station.

United Launch Alliance and Bigelow Aerospace announced a partnership at the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado yesterday that, when completed, would see a revolution in space exploration and utilization. 

Although not formally announcing launch, the two companies have begun investigative work to integrate Bigelow’s B330 space habitat on a ULA Atlas V vehicle for launch in 2020. Two B330s – also known as XBASE, for Expandable Bigelow Advanced Station Enhancement– would be delivered to ULA for launch in late 2019 and early 2020.

When launched, the B330s would be the world’s first  privately-owned, commercial space station in history, and would “democratize” Earth orbit, as ULA CEO Tory Bruno stated.

The B330 has been in development since mid-2001, and would be available for purchase by companies who desire to send experiments or other payloads into space. Space inside the station would also be available for rent if the entire station is not needed.

XBASE would be serviced by the existing fleet of commercial cargo ships as well as the in-development commercial crew vehicles. Bigelow stated that “Blue Origin, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, and Boeing” could all bring cargo and crew to the station depending on what the customer prefers.

It is hoped that the initial XBASE would be attached to the International Space Station, serving as a technical successor to BEAM, which launched Friday on CRS-8. Pending NASA approval, XBASE would increase the habitable volume of the station by 30%, adding more than 330 cubic meters to the complex. It would also serve as a testbed for the agency to operate systems required for long-duration interplanetary spaceflight using inflatable structures.

The second XBASE Bigelow plans on launching would be an free-flying station in low Earth orbit. Once the first two stations are in orbit, Bigelow stated that locations for additional XBASEs would be investigated. Locations in cislunar or interplanetary space would be considered if there was enough commercial base to make them viable.

Watch the full announcement at the 32nd Space Symposium here.

P/c: Nathan Koga and Bigelow Aerospace.

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Now, few of my own illustrations to show the future of the ISS!  With the success of the Commercial Cargo program, bringing SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital’s Cygnus spacecraft to the station, the Commercial Crew program is set to bring the US back to manned spaceflight to the ISS.  To this end, in 2015, the station was reconfigured to allow for 2 berthed cargo vehicles, while converting the 2 Space Shuttle PMAs (Pressurized Mating Adapter) to NASA Docking Standard ports with support for autonomous docking.

With SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft servicing the station, station crew capacity will be extended to 7.  The International Space Station has proven to be an excellent place to validate and test new spacecraft, serving as the testbed for ATV, HTV, Dragon and Cygnus while looking to do the same for CST-100 and Crew Dragon in 2017.

Meanwhile, the orbiting outpost will play a role in validating new spaceflight technology.  In 2015, the Bigelow Aerospace BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) will be flown to the station.  This technology, based on the cancelled NASA Transhab, will be validated by astronauts on-orbit.  Using expandable modules, future space stations can be built for a fraction of the cost of ISS while gaining large amounts of living space.  Other experiments on orbit include micro satellite servicing and deployment and the testing of small reentry vehicles from a proposed small airlock.

As the station’s future has now been all but completely extended to 2024 (awaiting Japanese and European approval), and the possibility of use until 2028, the question arises of what will succeed it after the station’s lifetime is complete and it is de-orbited.  Current NASA dialog suggests a similar arrangement to the commercial programs whereby NASA would purchase space on a commercial space station as an “anchor client” while purchasing commercial rides to reach them.  

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BEAM’s Installed!

Early this morning NASA used the giant robotic arm attached to the side of the ISS to install the first ever inflatable module to the space station.

The module, known as BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) may well be the future of space stations. Created by Bigelow Aerospace, BEAM has the goal of opening up a future of deep-space and long duration journeys into the final frontier.

Imagine if your entire home for the six month journey to Mars had to fit inside the tiny space at the tip of a rocket. Now imagine if your entire home could be inflatable…

BEAM’s technology may prove to be a major step forward for NASA as we seek to expand the size of our space stations. The BEAM that got installed onto the space station today is only about the size of one of those sheds you might see in some neighborhood backyards.

Luckily Bigelow Aerospace is already working on 330+ cubic meter sized space stations, and some specifically designed for the Lunar surface.

In addition to a huge expansion in size for our space stations, the inflatable space stations of Bigelow Aerospace may also prove to be extremely safe in that the physics of the material better wards off radiation than our current metal structures (and believe it or not but the inflatable structures are made of much stronger material than titanium - vectran).

Personally, this is an exciting thing for me. I’d love to be able to conduct planetary science on the surface of the Moon (well or simply visit the Moon at all).

(Image credit: Bigelow Aerospace)

The Downlink 2 - The Cubesat Podcast

On this podcast we talk about:

  • A 20 year mission to the next solar system? IT’S POSSIBLE! (check out the graphic above)
  • An inflatable space station? less sci-fi than you might think!
  • Kerbal Space Program Cubesat Mods
  • Cubesats to go to Europa? perhaps?
  • ULA wants more cubesats! k-12 schools might be making them!

Have any thoughts? Do you what any other segments? let us know if you would like?

Also check us out on itunes: the downlink on itunes

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This 45-foot long, 22-foot-diameter pill-shaped structure is a model of the BA-330, an inflatable space habitat designed by Bigelow Aerospace. The company plans to complete construction on two real modules by 2017. One day, governments, corporations, and even private citizens could link up multiple modules of the BA-330 to create research stations and space hotels. 

Unlike the angular, metallic International Space Station, the BA-330 has a soft shell. That allows the module to fit into a small launch vehicle and then inflate in space. And the soft shell actually beats metal when it comes to deflecting dangerous space junk. “Think of it as a bulletproof vest that surrounds the vehicle,” says Jay Ingham, Bigelow’s program manager. Whereas the ISS is built to withstand a hit from a particle 5 millimeters in diameter, the BA-330’s soft shell can deflect particles 13 millimeters or larger. “It will probably do better than that, but we can’t find a gun to shoot particles that big,” Ingham says. The shell also provides better protection from radiation. “Metallic structures create a lot of secondary radiation,” Ingham says. “As a high-energy particle hits something metallic, it almost sprays out the other end, so you get lower energy radiation, but a lot more of it. It’s like a bullet hitting a piece of a glass windshield—you may not get hurt by the initial bullet, but it sprays little pieces of glass everywhere that can be just as dangerous.” The BA330 absorbs the radiation rather than scattering it. 

Step Inside the Inflatable Space Station

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NASA Deal May Put Inflatable Private Module on Space Station

NASA and Bigelow Aerospace have reached an agreement that could pave the way for attaching a Bigelow-built inflatable space habitat to the International Space Station, a NASA spokesman said.

The $17.8 million contract was signed in late December, NASA spokesman Trent Perrotto told SpaceNews Monday (Jan. 7). Perrotto declined to provide other terms of the agreement, except to say that it centers around the Bigelow Expanded Aerospace Module (BEAM). He said a formal announcement is in the works.

That inflatable space habitat, which is similar to the Genesis-model prototypes Bigelow launched in 2006 and 2007, could be used for extra storage at the space station and provide flight data on the on-orbit durability of Bigelow’s inflatable modules compared to the outpost’s existing metallic modules.

Bigelow and NASA have been discussing an inflatable addition to the space station for years.

The deal signed in December follows a nonpaying NASA contract Bigelow got in 2011, under which the North Las Vegas, Nev., company worked up a list of procedures and protocols for adding BEAM to the space station. Bigelow got that contract, which did not call for any flight hardware, in response to a 2010 NASA Broad Agency Announcement seeking ideas for support equipment and services meant to help the U.S. portion of the International Space Station live up to its billing as a national laboratory.

Last March, NASA spokesman Josh Buck said the agency would tap one of its Commercial Resupply Services contractors, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) or Orbital Sciences Corp., to get BEAM to the space station.

SpaceX and Orbital are under contract for space station cargo deliveries through 2016. So far, only SpaceX has flown to the station. The company, which flies Dragon cargo capsules atop Falcon 9 rockets, completed its first contracted run in October. Orbital, which is developing a cargo freighter called Cygnus for launch aboard its new Antares rocket, is now scheduled to launch a demonstration cargo run in February from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia.

SpaceX and Orbital both signed Commercial Resupply Services contracts in 2008. SpaceX’s $1.6 billion resupply pact calls for 12 flights. Orbital’s $1.9 billion deal is for eight flights.

First-ever expandable space station module, BEAM, installed on ISS

For the first time in five years, the International Space Station has received a new module April 16.

Bigelow Aerospace’s BEAM module was removed from the trunk of the Dragon spacecraft and attached to the aft port of the Tranquility node. Extraction from Dragon began around 1am EDT, and concluded at 5:36am EDT.

BEAM, short for Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, is the first non-rigid “human-rated expandable structure to be flown in space” as NASA Public Affairs Officer Dan Huot said shortly after BEAM was attached.

Around May 26, BEAM will begin its two-year mission by expanding from 8 by 5.5 feet to 10.5 by 13 feet. Expansion will occur in stages, with the initial gusts of air being provided by the station’s Pressure Equalization Valves. One that occurs, compressed Oxygen and Nitrogen on board BEAM will complete the expansion.

BEAM launched April 8 on the SpaceX CRS-8 mission.

P/c: Tim Kopra/NASA.

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Bigelow Aerospace: You can buy a Space Station

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NASA to Test Bigelow Expandable Module On Space Station |

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver announced Jan. 16 a newly planned addition to the International Space Station that will use the orbiting laboratory to test expandable space habitat technology. NASA has awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which is scheduled to arrive at the space station in 2015 for a two-year technology demonstration.

“Today we’re demonstrating progress on a technology that will advance important long-duration human spaceflight goals,” Garver said. “NASA’s partnership with Bigelow opens a new chapter in our continuing work to bring the innovation of industry to space, heralding cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably.”

The BEAM is scheduled to launch aboard the eighth SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the station contracted by NASA, currently planned for 2015. Following the arrival of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft carrying the BEAM to the station, astronauts will use the station’s robotic arm to install the module on the aft port of the Tranquility node.

After the module is berthed to the Tranquility node, the station crew will activate a pressurization system to expand the structure to its full size using air stored within the packed module.

During the two-year test period, station crew members and ground-based engineers will gather performance data on the module, including its structural integrity and leak rate. An assortment of instruments embedded within module also will provide important insights on its response to the space environment. This includes radiation and temperature changes compared with traditional aluminum modules. continue reading

Bigelow Aerospace’s BEAM module after it was attached to the Tranquility module, seen from a positioning camera on the end of Canadarm2. The space station’s robotic arm extracted BEAM from the cargo trunk of the Dragon spacecraft and positioned the module over Tranquility’s aft Common Berthing Mechanism port.

Expansion of the inflatable, non-rigid module is targeted for around May 26.

BEAM is the first new module to be added to the ISS since the Permanent Multipurpose Module in 2011.

Private Mission to the Moon: Approved!

Next year private startup Moon Express will launch on an electron rocket (by startup Rocket Lab) to land a robot on the Moon.

This is the first time a private mission beyond mere Earth orbit has been granted full government sanction.

The mission is a part of the Google Lunar X Prize competition, though Moon Express exists independently as a business venture. The long-term goal is to be able to mine the Moon and bring material back to Earth. The plan right now is to bring the first material back to Earth in 2020. The launch to the lunar surface is next year (2017).

Moon Express is about to travel farther from Earth than any other private firm in history.

An interesting side story to the unprecedented success of Moon Express is sthe development of legalism in space. Due to projects like this, the U.S. government is beginning to develop frameworks for the private occupation of space by both individuals and business groups.

The world has seen an astounding growth in space-related startups and private ventures. It seems like, with groups like Moon Express, SpaceX, Blue Origin and Bigelow Aerospace etc. the new space race is in full swing.

(Image credit: Moon Express)

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Orlando Sentinel:

NASA and Bigelow Aerospace to announce plans for inflatable station modules

Sentinel exclusive: inflatable station module? $18M room with a view

WASHINGTON — NASA is expected to announce today the terms of a landmark deal that will allow Bigelow Aerospace, a private company based in North Las Vegas, to attach one of its inflatable habitats to the International Space Station.

The deal gives the company, founded by hotelier Robert Bigelow, the opportunity to test a new type of space dwelling — essentially a balloon made of Kevlar-like material that is inflated once it reaches orbit — that would stay attached to the station for at least two years.

Under the agreement, NASA would pay Bigelow Aerospace nearly $18 million for the module, which is about the size of a large bedroom. It would be used to increase the amount of living space aboard the station, which itself is about as big as a football field.

A rocket built by SpaceX, another commercial company under contract with NASA, would blast the module to the station from Cape Canaveral as soon as mid-2015. Bigelow would become the first private company to have one of its modules purchased by NASA and added to the $100 billion, government-run observatory.

“This partnership … represents a step forward in cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably, and heralds important progress in U.S. commercial space innovation,” NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said in a statement.

How station astronauts will use the Bigelow module still is under discussion. NASA officials said the prime goal is to see how the technology works.

Unlike other, rigid parts of the station, the module is comparable to a live-in balloon. It would be launched, uninflated, to the station, attached to an air lock with help from one of the station’s robotic arms and then blown up with pressurized air.

The module’s major benefit is that it is lightweight — only about 3,000 pounds — and thus far cheaper to launch than a rigid module that can weigh 10,000 pounds or more.

Though the material would appear vulnerable to hits from space debris, Bigelow officials said the module is equipped with a shield that hypervelocity tests have shown is “superior” to the aluminum walls of the station. The softer, Kevlar-like material also reduces the effect of “secondary radiation,” according to the company.

If the Bigelow module proves effective, then it could be considered for other, long-range missions, NASA officials said.