Bigelow Aerospace


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.


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


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


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.

BEAM successfully expanded on second attempt.

After a deflating initial attempt Thursday, engineers were finally able to fully expand the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module Saturday.

Originally scheduled for expansion Thursday, technicians called off the attempt when BEAM’s internal pressure continued to rise even though the module stopped expanding. After removing all the air, Bigelow and NASA engineers met to discuss the issue, deciding to try again on Saturday.

The 24 hour pause in expansion helped BEAM’s polymer layers to relax, allowing for the folded layers to more easily unfold from each other. After 25 bursts of air totaling 2 minutes and 27 seconds, the module reached its expected dimensions of 10.5 by 14 feet. (3.2 by 4 meters). Expedition 47 Flight Engineer Jeff Williams then commanded the module to use its eight bottles of oxygen to pressurize the module to the space station’s ambient pressure of 14.7psi.

In about a week, crews will open BEAM’s hatch and enter the module to install battery powered sensors. These devices will measure the module’s vital signs over the course of its two-year mission.

Data learned from BEAM will help engineers, scientists, and space architects determine the validity of non-rigid structures in long duration human spaceflight.

Various stages of BEAM’s deployment as seen from the Robotics Operations Systems Officer’s screen. The camera on the end of the station’s Canadarm2 was used to monitor deployment..

BEAM’s interior, showing the eight Oxygen tanks used to pressurize the module, and the connection tube to the station’s Pressure Equalization Valve. The image below is from a mockup at Johnson Space Center.


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.  


Bigelow Aerospace: You can buy a Space Station


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

This Thursday the inflatable habitat put on the ISS is finally getting expanded!! YAY!

You can watch it happen LIVE on NASA TV. Coverage starts at 5:30 am EST (9:30 GMT) and the expansion is scheduled for 6:10 am EST (10:10 GMT). All times are on May 26th.

NASA is doing an AMA right now to answer peoples questions on the event. So if you have any I’d recommending going there ASAP.  For what this means big picture, check out my blog post.


BEAM entered, NASA’s Jeff Williams becomes first human to enter inflatable space module.

For the first time in history, an astronaut entered an expandable module attached to the International Space Station. NASA Astronaut and Expedition 47 Flight Engineer Jeff Williams entered Bigelow Aerospace’s BEAM module at 4:47am EDT Monday, June 6. 

Wearing breathing masks and headlights - standard protocol for entering new vehicles or modules on the ISS, Williams and cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka entered the darkened module to collect air samples.

The two crewmembers reported that BEAM was in ‘pristine condition’, though colder inside than the rest of the space station. Initial projections by Bigelow estimated the module’s temperature at its aft bulkhead to be around 44 degrees Fahrenheit, which the astronauts confirmed.

BEAM’s interior, showing the eight oxygen bottles used to pressurize the module following expansion and the Pressure Equalization Valve that connects to the station’s atmosphere.

Following the collection of oxygen samples, Williams reentered BEAM to collect and download data from a plethora of sensors stored inside the module that monitored its expansion, pressurization, radiation levels, and operations thus far.

Williams is expected to reenter the module Tuesday and Wednesday (May 7 and 8) to reinstall sensors and other monitoring equipment. This will be the last time astronauts will enter BEAM for quite some time, though Bigelow and NASA intend for ingress every other month or so to collect data and replace sensors.

Williams operated the module’s systems during its two-day expansion May 26-27.


Founded in 1999 by visionary entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, the goal of Bigelow Aerospace is to create a new paradigm in space commerce and exploration via the development and use of revolutionary expandable habitat technology. Expandable habitats offer dramatically larger volumes than rigid, metallic structures as well as enhanced protection against both radiation and physical debris. Additionally, expandable habitats are lighter than traditional systems, take up less rocket fairing space, and most important of all in today’s fiscally constrained environment, Bigelow habitats are extremely affordable. 

Bigelow Aerospace has already fabricated and deployed two subscale pathfinder spacecraft, Genesis I and Genesis II, which were launched in 2006 and 2007, respectively. A third prototype spacecraft, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (“BEAM”) is scheduled to be launched to the International Space Station (“ISS”) by NASA in 2015. When the BEAM is attached to the ISS it will demonstrate the value of expandable habitats as part of a crewed system. 

Regardless of the destination, LEO, the Moon, or Mars, Bigelow Aerospace’s expandable habitats will enable a new era in space commerce and exploration. Larger view HERE.

In addition to the BEAM, Bigelow Aerospace is aggressively pursuing the development of its full-scale system, the BA 330. As the name indicates, the BA 330 will provide approximately 330 cubic meters of internal volume and will support a crew of up to six. BA 330s will be used to support a variety of public and private activities in and beyond Low Earth Orbit (“LEO”). Bigelow Aerospace is also working on even larger spacecraft, such as its ‘Olympus’ module, which will provide a massive 2,250 cubic meters of internal volume. 

Related: ‘NASA Eyes Bigelow Aerospace’s B330 For Possible Deep Space Use’ (Spaceflight Insider); ‘Bezos, Bigelow, Branson, and Musk’ (Air&Space)

Canadarm2 Installs BEAM on International Space Station

iss047e061100 (4/16/2016) — The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was installed to the International Space Station on April 16, 2016 at 5:36 a.m. EDT. Following extraction from SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft using the Canadarm2 robotic arm, ground controllers installed the expandable module to the aft port of Tranquility. Astronauts will enter BEAM on an occasional basis to conduct tests to validate the module’s overall performance and the capability of expandable habitats.

NASA is investigating concepts for habitats that can keep astronauts healthy during space exploration. Expandable habitats are one such concept under consideration – they require less payload volume on the rocket than traditional rigid structures, and expand after being deployed in space to provide additional room for astronauts to live and work inside.

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.