Bigelow Hands Over BEAM Module for Launch

Bigelow concept space station with more internal volume than ISS. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Bigelow BEAM module packed and ready for shipping. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Bigelow Aerospace had a media event in North Las Vegas, Nev., today to mark completion of work on its BEAM module, which will be launched to the International Space Station in September aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. The module will be provide additional habitable space on the station as NASA tests how well the inflatable technology performs in space.

Below are notes from the press event.

Bigelow concept space station with more internal volume than ISS. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Bigelow concept space station with more internal volume than ISS. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Hiroshi Kikuchi
Senior Managing Director/Member of the Board
Spacecraft Systems Department
Aerospace Business Development Center
Japan Manned Space Systems Corporation (JAMSS)

  • BEAM will start the commercialization age
  • Followed by BA-330 space station modules
Module of a Bigelow space station. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Module of a Bigelow space station. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

William Gerstenmaier
NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations

  • BEAM will be carried to ISS in trunk of Dragon cargo ship (8th resupply flight)
  • Launch now planned for September
  • Plan to test inflatable module’s thermal properties, radiation environment, acoustics and other properties
  • Particularly interested in how it expands to full size, does it impart any loads on the space station
  • Want to remove uncertainty about technology for Earth orbit and deep-space missions
  • ISS crew will be able to use it as they see fit when NASA isn’t conducting tests on it
  • Could be a good module for astronauts to hang out in
  • Need to bring ducting into the module to bring in air, BEAM doesn’t have life support on its own
  • Module will stay on station for about 2 years or so
  • At the end of the stay, will be released from station and de-orbited
  • Docking ports on the station are at a premium
  • NASA is using ISS to lower barriers to space for private companies
  • ISS is extremely useful for testing out new technologies
  • Just awarded commercial crew contracts to Boeing and SpaceX last year
  • Commercial crew systems owed by companies, not NASA
  • Private companies can provide crew services to future Bigelow space stations
Street leading into Bigelow headquarters. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Street leading into Bigelow headquarters. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Robert Bigelow
Founder, Bigelow Aerospace

  • Called Gerstenmaier the “godfather” of human spaceflight
  • Inflatable, expandable architecture originally came from NASA TransHab program to develop modules for use in deep space
  • Bigelow Aerospace picked it up after NASA dropped the program — “I thought it was phenomenal idea”
  • Launched un-crewed experimental Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 modules to test technology in 2006 and 2007
  • “We were ecstatic that we had both of those be a tremendous success.”
  • Instead of launching other test modules, decided to go forward with larger systems
  • BEAM inflation will take 4.5 minutes
  • Inflatable technology can optimize volume on launch — three times volume on orbit for the cost of the same rocket
  • Inflatable architecture is similar to steel belt architecture in tires
  • Contracted for many hyper-velocity impact tests; results are better than for aluminum
  • “There’s no relationship to a balloon type of reaction whatsoever.”
  • Crew has a lot of time to provide a patch for it any leaks
  • Better than aluminum modules for radiation protection
  • Modules use water tiles to further enhance protection from radiation
  • Module propulsion system will use water
  • With NASA commercial crew contracts awarded to Boeing and SpaceX, expect to have commercial crew services available in 2017
  • Bigelow Aerospace to focus on having two BA-330 space stations available for deployment in 2018
  • Premature to talk about what the modules will be used for and by whom — still working on that part
  • Ambitions beyond LEO….working on architectures for participating in “some kind of a group endeavor”
  • Bigelow would prefer to focus on the moon before Mars
  • Moon is closer, will be easier to get there, maintain and resupply a base, and learn how to live off Earth before going on to Mars
  • doesn’t make any sense to send small modules into deep space; need ones with large volumes for supplies
  • Asked when Bigelow Aerospace will be profitable: “Have you been talking to my wife? Because she asks the exact same thing. And she has for 15 years.”