Bigelow Aerospace


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.  

The Five W’s of an Expandable Habitat in Space

Who: In this case, it’s really a “what.” The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is an expandable module developed by Bigelow Aerospace using a NASA patent conceptualized in the 1990s. It is made up of layers of fabric that will expand when installed and equalize with the pressure of the International Space Station.

What: Sensors inside BEAM will monitor temperature and radiation changes, as well as its resistance to potential orbital debris impacts. During its time on station, the airlock between BEAM and the rest of the space station will remained closed, and astronauts will enter only to collect data and help the experiment progress. If BEAM is punctured, the habitat is designed to slowly compress to keep the rest of the space station safe.

With the BEAM launch, deployment and time on station, Bigelow will demonstrate a number of expandable habitat capabilities, such as its folding and packing techniques, radiation protection capability and its thermal, structural and mechanical durability.

When: BEAM is set to launch on SpaceX’s eighth Dragon resupply mission April 8, and will be docked to the space station for a minimum two-year demonstration period.

Where: The International Space Station’s mechanical arm will transport BEAM from the spacecraft to a berthing port on the Tranquility module where it will then be expanded.

Why: These expandable modules take up less room on a rocket, but once set up, provide more volume for living and working in space.

When we’re traveling to Mars or beyond, astronauts need habitats that are both durable and easy to transport and to set up. That’s where expandable technology comes in. BEAM is one of the first steps to test expandable structures as a viable alternative to traditional space habitats.

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NASA just gave out several contracts to companies like Bigelow Aerospace and Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc. to develop next generation technologies for space exploration.

Specifically these contracts are for new forms of habitation modules (basically space stations that are attached to your spaceship) and new forms of advanced propulsion, specifically electric propulsion.

This is a very good sign. In order to get to Mars safely and reliably, we need this technology.

One of the new habitation modules by Bigelow will actually be launching a habitation module soon to become a new section of the International Space Station. It’s essentially an inflatable space station in its own right with the capability of locking to hatches on things like the ISS, the Orion crew capsule and even other hab modules.

Approaching habitation technology from the direction of inflatable modules will vastly improve on things like the cost, number and size of space stations we can put into orbit.

NASA mentioned attaching one of these to the Orion and using it as a home for astronauts in a mission to the Moon (in orbit). They’re most likely referring to the asteroid redirect mission which will see NASA put an asteroid in Lunar orbit and then see NASA astronauts land on said asteroid.

Like I said, this is promising to see. Money is finally being dished out to the right people to develop the necessary technology most likely to give NASA Mars-mission capability.


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)

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.

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)

NASA Officials view flight article of inflatable space station module

William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations met Jason Crusan, director of Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA’s headquarters in Washington paid a visit to Bigelow Aerospace’s Las Vegas facility March 12 to view the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM). The module is revolutionary in that it will be the first component of the international space station not to have a rigid hull.

Before inflation, the module measures 8 feet in diameter. Once attached to the space station it will expand to over 585 cubic feet of volume. BEAM will spend two years aboard the International Space Station while astronauts test the module’s structural integrity, leak rate, radiation dosage and temperature changes.

The module is slated to launch in September, 2015 as part of the SpaceX-8 Cargo Resupply Mission.

BEAM is not the first inflatable space station to achieve orbit. In 2006 and 2007, Bigelow sent the Genesis I and Genesis II test modules into space. Those vehicles proved that inflatable space station technology was feasible. A pressurized, controlled environment was maintained inside the satellite until the mission’s end. BEAM takes the technology the next step further by offering it to an occupied space station.

Ultimately, Bigelow hopes to launch multiple inflatable space station modules to lower the cost of on-orbit science and manufacturing.

NASA’s partnership with Bigelow and the BEAM module is just one example of the agency’s commitment of furthering the commercial use of space. Jason Crusan, director of Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, stated, “We’re fortunate to have the space station to demonstrate potential habitation capabilities like BEAM.  Station provides us with a long-duration microgravity platform with constant crew access to evaluate systems and technologies we are considering for future missions farther into deep space.” 

Michael of Distance to Mars contributed to this article!


Bigelow Aerospace’s Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, undergoing preflight processing.

The first image shows BEAM with the CRS-8 capsule, while the second shows the module being loaded into Dragon’s unpressurised trunk section for flight.

CRS-8 will deliver BEAM to the International Space Station, where it will perform a two-year mission testing out inflatable technologies.

Uninflated, the module measures 5.7 by 7.75 feet, and will expand to 10.5 by 12 feet. Astronauts aboard the ISS will enter BEAM every four months to check its structural integrity and overall systems health, but will otherwise not occupy or use the module.

While the module has been test inflated here on Earth, NASA and Bigelow aerospace is uncertain how the module will expand once in microgravity.

BEAM acts as a testbed for new technologies which NASA and private companies may use in future space vehicles.

The Bigelow Expendable Activity Module, or BEAM, is loaded into the CRS-8 Dragon trunk, early February, 2016.

BEAM is the first component of the International Space Station to have non-rigid hull, or inflatable. Bigelow Aerospace designed the module as a technology demonstrator. It will remain berthed to the ISS for over a year before being removed for destructive reentry in Earth’s atmosphere.

Bigelow has previously launched two inflatable space station prototypes, Genesis I and II, in 2003 and 2007. They plan on constructing an inflatable modular space station for commercial use based off the technology developed for the Genesis and BEAM modules.

CRS-8 is SpaceX’s first ISS resupply mission since the CRS-7 launch failure in June, 2015. It’s currently slated for a March liftoff.