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.  

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.

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.

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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Skinwalker ranch, UFOs, cattle mutilations and more are discussed in this fascinating interview with a member of the team sent to investigate it by Robert Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Aerospace.

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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.

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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.

More Space...in Space

How do you create more space…in space? The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is one solution to creating additional working space on the International Space Station.

BEAM will be deployed to its full size this Thursday, May 26, and begin its two-year technology demonstration attached to the space station. The astronauts aboard will first enter the habitat on June 2, and re-enter the module several times a year throughout the test period. While inside, they will retrieve sensor data and assess conditions inside the module.

Why Use an Expandable Habitat?

Expandable habitats are designed to take up less room on a spacecraft, but provide greater volume for living and working in space once expanded. This first test of an expandable module will allow investigators to gauge how well it performs and specifically, how well it protects against solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space.

BEAM launched April 8 aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft, and is an example of our increased commitment to partnering with industry to enable the growth of commercial use of space.

Get Involved!

During expansion, we will provide live Mission Control updates on NASA Television starting at 5:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday, May 26.

Make your own origaBEAMi!

To coincide with the expansion, here is a simple and fun activity called “origaBEAMi” that lets you build your own miniature inflatable BEAM module. Download the “crew procedures” HERE that contain step-by-step instructions on how to print and fold your BEAM module. You can also view a “how to” video HERE.

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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)

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)

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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.