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.”

  • Paul451

    Such a small package to have so many space-enthusiasts’ hoped riding on it. One wonders how it will ever get off the ground.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “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.”
    This is what gives gives me most hope. Yes, he hopes to make money from this endeavour, but the endeavour itself is far more valuable than the money it costs to get started. Economical operation is a long term goal. Pushing humankind into space is the real prise.

  • delphinus100

    Arguably everything we do today started with Sputnik-1…

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    I’ve been a fan of Bigelow for awhile now, so I’m really hoping their module works perfectly. I think the current ISS works decent, but looks like garbage (a bunch of tin cans glued together), Can’t wait for Bigelow to launch a BA-330, a much nicer space station. But like everyone, I can’t wait for a super heavy rocket, so Bigelow can build their utterly massive, yet awesomely cool BA-2100.

  • windbourne

    Several things:
    First, BA-2100 will never be launched. Way too big and was designed to go on the SLS, and that will never happen unless NASA buys a unit.
    Secondly, future space stations need to have multiple modules so that if a leak does develop in one, they can move to a different module.
    Third, BA needs to follow the same model as SpaceX. As such, they need to make numerous modules on an on-going means, which matches the above.
    Finally, the FH should be able to take up a BA-1400 to BA-1600. Plenty big.

  • windbourne

    Ideally, we need another company to want to put up their own space station.
    I love the fact that Bigelow is helping to lower the costs of space, but competition is the real way to make that happen.

  • windbourne

    I would argue that it started with Goddards liquid fueled rockets.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    If the SpaceX BFR rocket comes online. We will talk about the BA-2100 as a building block module to a much bigger orbital station. Wait a few years for a SpaceX BFR announcement before dismissing the variability of the BA-2100.

  • therealdmt

    Good point about multiple modules. It doesn’t *have* to be done that way (Skylab was basically one big module with an airlock/docking adapter/telescope mount stuck on one end), but having at least two modules (each of which would be big enough for the entire crew to survive in) would provide valuable redundancy.

  • Mader Levap

    Everything started with Nazi V1/V2. Some grandparent of rocketry it is, huh.

  • Larry J

    Fortunately, hopes and dreams don’t weigh very much.

  • Political Atheist

    The Chinese invented rockets 800 years ago.

  • OdiousJack

    But inflatables are vulnerable and in reality don’t look as good as on the drawingboard. The first inflatable Bigelow got up looked flimsy when expanded. Metal modules are more expensive, but higher cost means better quality and greater safety.

  • Steve Ksiazek

    How are they helping lower costs ???

  • windbourne

    You have to be kidding.
    Do u even understand how this works?

  • windbourne

    When bfr comes on-line, it will not be a ba-2100. It will be a ba-5000 or ba-6000

  • windbourne

    Their station is a fraction of the iss or anything with the metal cans.

  • windbourne

    They invented solid rockets. Goddard developed liquid rockets from which the Nazi used his tech.

  • Larry J

    Inflatable modules were pioneered by NASA. When the project was killed, Bigelow licensed the technology and improved it. Tests show that their inflatable modules are actually much more resistant to debris impacts than metal modules while offering significantly greater volume for a given launch mass.

  • windbourne

    In addition, there are layers that will patch a hole.

  • James

    Well actually Goddard still started it. The Germans used his research to build the V2’s.

  • James

    Most likely not. People hear inflatable and think balloon.

  • James

    Actually the Bigelow modules are far more damage resistant, safer, cheaper, and well…..really better in every way.

    The bigelow modules don’t work like balloons really. They are designed to be inflated once and after that are fine.

    Think of it like this.

    The module is readied for launch. It goes up then when it is ready inflates. This pushes the whole thing out to its full size. Later bracing can be put in if necessary or needed but also for rooms, equipment etc.

    However the skin itself is basically a gigantic bullet resistant vest. Except this one also seals itself, holds water supplies, and resist radiation.

  • Charles Lurio

    Why do you think Bigelow prefers the word “expandable?” No immediate balloon thoughts…

  • Kapitalist

    This was very poorly written. If you don’t want to write a real text about it, just give a link to the media event itself instead.

  • Kapitalist

    And don’t forget Conrad Haas 500 years ago. Multi stage rockets and, in the illustration, attempts to help birds fly faster: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conrad_Haas

    Profitability and risk were important issues already back then:
    “But my advice is for more peace and no war, leaving the rifles calmly in storage, so the bullet is not fired, the gunpowder is not burned or wet, so the prince keeps his money, the arsenal master his life; that is the advice Conrad Haas gives.”

  • Kapitalist

    Does the ISS really work well? It costs much more and took much longer than expected. The crews complain that they only have time for maintenance, no science. And the little science done seems to be a disappointment, crystals made in microgravity don’t have the magic properties one had hoped for (which is a serious marketing problem for Bigalow!) It is nothing like a spaceship would be designed, it doesn’t have any artificial gravity experiment for humans. Space walks have proven to be very cumbersome. And it can only be reached by basically the same rocket which launched Sputnik 1, from a country now in international political conflict. I think that the ISS is a failure, and I’m afraid it can only get worse with a lethal accident just waiting to happen any day.

  • Valerij Gilinskij

    1) “The crews complain that they only have time for maintenance, no science.”
    The problem can be solved by increasing the crew station and separation on “staff” busy content required development and repair station on the one hand and “explorers” on the other. This solution also gives opportunities for business.

    ISS has given a lot of lessons – and how to work in space, and how you can not work. But on the ISS are so many limitations associated with the safety requirements and its international status. Also often some research (or measures to maintain the health of astronauts) has impeded of other studies.

    But the biggest limitation – the four spacecraft “Soyuz”, twelve people a yearand the very not cost-effective organization of work on the principle of “cost-plus”, due to which the program is so expensive. Commercial space stations will operate much more efficiently.

  • OdiousJack

    @ Larry J , @ James
    Then why did NASA kill the project considering all the potential benefits.

  • Hug Doug

    NASA didn’t kill the project, Congress did.

    “Considerable controversy arose during the TransHab development effort due to delays and increased costs of the ISS program. In 1999, the National Space Society issued a policy statement recommending that NASA continue R&D of inflatable technologies while ceasing development of a TransHab ISS module.[3] Finally in 2000, despite objections from the White House,[4] House Resolution 1654 was signed into law banning NASA from conducting further research and development of TransHab.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TransHab

  • windbourne

    why?
    This was easier to read then others.
    Basically, he highlights the important stuff that was said.

  • windbourne

    Personally, I would love to see when and how life support will be?
    I think that one of the best things about skylab was a shower, as well as the open area.
    But BA would be smart to create a new prize for a new toilet design, and perhaps a new shower design. Heck, if he offers up 1-5 million for each, he might get something better than what is currently used.

  • windbourne

    For those of you that do not understand how this works and why it is SUPERIOR to the metal cans:
    1) this has multiple layers of different fabric:
    2) Some of the layers are for insulation to keep the temp stable.
    3) some of the layers are for strength (kevlar) and are actually STRONGER than the metal cans that go up there.
    4) some of the layers are actually a goop that will seal any small holes that develop. That will give time for a real patch to be put in place.
    5) with a metal can, if punctured, they have a tendancy to rupture bigger and faster. Look at aircrafts that develop SMALL holes. By the time they land, they are normally suffering from a massive gapping hole. WIth the fabric that is not the case.
    6) sound is NOT echoed. One of the large grips for the men/women up there is how noisy the ISS is, even though the equipment has been designed to be quiet.
    7) some of the fabric layers absorb radiation.
    8) since this is fabric and not metal, you will not get radiation scatter, which you get constantly with the metal. That actually makes things WORSE, not better.
    9) this is a great deal cheaper than the metal cans.
    10) it puts the important infrastructure in the center where it is less likely to suffer an outage from a micro-meteoroid. With the metal cans, you run your wiring right next to the walls, making them very vulnerable.
    11) being fabric and inflatable, this is not only lighter, but, for the same mass, it gives a great deal more volume than does the metal cans.

  • windbourne

    Actually, Russia came up with the idea of inflatables. Then NASA turned to GoodYear to build one as well. All of these were basically balloons.

    However, it was NASA that developed the transhab with converting from balloons to multiple layers of different material. It killed me when the neo-cons kill that off. Thankfully, it was Clinton that pushed to make it available to buyers.

  • windbourne

    Neo-cons killed it as part of the budget deals that Clinton/neo-cons did to balance the budget.
    It was ‘saved’ when CLinton pushed to at least allow this and other space tech to be bought by private citizens.

    Now, if he would have had enough backbone to stand up for the IFR.

  • windbourne

    I am hoping that after 1 year of BEAM being up there, that the ISS team will consider the idea of putting in another BA unit that will be used for living quarters. That would free up so much volume. In addition, it would solve one of the big issues that the crew have of noise. Finally, the unit would be ideal for having life support on its own, including a toilet and shower.
    And it would allow for perhaps 9-12 ppl, instead of 7.
    Finally, that would allow for shifts to take place. Right now, they can not do shifts since it is far too noisy.

  • Hug Doug

    Republicans only had a 6 vote majority in the House at the time. the bill passed with a 399 / 17 vote.

    https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/106-2000/h475

    i don’t think you can blame this on “neo-cons”

  • Kapitalist

    Indeed, the ISS has learned us how to not do things. A space station cannot have microgravity and it cannot be international. Now that we know this, the sooner the ISS is de-orbited, the better! The next one has to be designed as a prototype spaceship to Mars in order to be useful.

  • Kapitalist

    A shower in microgravity? Has tax money been spent on trying to develop such a thing? I thought the crew spent half a year cleaning themselves with little more than a wet piece of paper. At least they have some kind of toilette, the Apollo crews just had a glove. (Sarah Brightman will love her stay in the glory of space!)

    And the noise on the ISS, which makes it hard for some astronauts to sleep, I think, comes from the ventilation system. The noisy fans are needed in order to make the air move around enough so that microbes, dust and ill smelling gases don’t keep flying in the face of everyone, lacking any gravity which would collect it on the floor.

  • Valerij Gilinskij

    Just to be a lot of space stations, for different tasks. And most manned international space station among them will be very popular. Including for research in microgravity on small modules autonomously flying, periodically docking to the main station. The current state is largely inevitable stage of development of technology of long life and a constant work in space. And if you want to know what bad luck – look at the Russian segment of the ISS and find out how it should look as planned.

  • Larry J

    “A shower in microgravity? Has tax money been spent on trying to develop such a thing?”

    Actually, yes. Skylab had a shower 40 years ago. That’s a very long link. If it doesn’t work, google for Skylab shower and you’ll find many links.

  • Larry J

    Some people blame everything on neo-cons. It’s a fixation.

  • windbourne

    Not only did skylab have a shower, but it also had a toilet. The problem with it, was that it was expensive to make, and like the russian unit, complicated to use.
    That is why we need new means of lower costs sanitation approaches. Just as NASA was able to get a much better glove developed by running an X-prize for it, we need to do the same for these other items.

    And yes, the fans are noisy, but the equipment is as well.

  • windbourne

    no, just the things that they did.
    And yes, it was the neo-con portion of the GOP that pushed for the end of transhab.

  • windbourne

    Actually, I can since they are the ones that pushed to kill off transhab. In fact, that was very important to them because they did not want to go to Mars, but to the moon. And transhab was being pushed for Mars.

    Look, Clinton allowed the dems to kill off IFR. The GOP voted for the bill on that as well, because it solved other issues for them. Do I hold them responsible for it?
    Nope. Why not? Because they could not do anything to block it.

    But the fact is, that the neo-cons controlled GOP and 6 years of CONgress back under Clinton (as opposed to now, in which it is a mix of neo-cons and teaparty that control the GOP).

    And just because it is your party does not mean that you should not hold them responsible for their actions. I hold my Libertarians responsible for theirs (which is allowing flakes in).

  • windbourne

    And there you have it. The last sentence said it all:
    “Finally in 2000, despite objections from the White House,[4] House Resolution 1654 was signed into law banning NASA from conducting further research and development of TransHab.”

    Clinton pushed against this, and part of the deal, was that NASA tech be allowed to be sold to the private. Many of the neo-cons fought against that (they wanted this DEAD with them sucking all of the blood out of it), but it was part of the deal for Clinton to sign that.
    Now, we are going some place.

  • James McEnanly

    They can also put up a BA 330, which has about the same internal volume as Skylab, with an Atlas V. Skylab required a Saturn V

  • Dave Algonquin

    Why would we pay Bigelow $18 million for an ISS module when we can get Boeing to build one for only $1.2 billion?

  • Dave Algonquin

    If fireworks are rockets, then yes.

  • Dave Algonquin

    Why let facts get in the way of a good story?