Axiom Space, Bigelow Outline Plans for ISS Commercial Module

BEAM module (Credit: NASA TV)
BEAM module (Credit: NASA TV)

The NASA plan for a commercial module was discussed this week in three presentations at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, NM.

NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier gave one presentation. Michael Baine of Axiom Space and Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace discussed the modules their companies will propose for the station.

NASA issued a request for information (RFI) earlier this year seeking ideas for the attachment of a commercial module to the International Space Station (ISS).

A berthing port will be available beginning in 2018 when Bigelow Aerospace’s experimental BEAM module is detached from the space station after a two-year test of inflatable technology in space.

Below are notes from the three sessions derived from Twitter posts. I would like to thank Tanya Harrison ‏(@tanyaofmars), Jeff Foust ‏(@jeff_foust), ISPCS (‏@ISPCS), ASU NewSpace ‏(@asunewspace), Michael Simpson (‏@SpaceSharer) and Melissa Sampson ‏(@DrSampson) for providing the coverage.

Bill Gerstenmaier
NASA Associate Administrator for
Human Exploration and Operations

  • Received 11 responses to RFI from interested parties
  • Analyzing responses and will take next step by end of the year
  • ISS is approved for operation until at 2024 and possibly longer
  • NASA wants to encourage private sector to use ISS while it is still there
  • Now is the time for NASA and the private sector to explore ways to use ISS in order to plan private space stations
  • Expects future space stations to be smaller than the ISS
  • Future stations could be crewed full time or crew tended on a periodic basis
  • Some future stations could be designed for a single use
  • ISS has had a permanent crew aboard since 2000 and hosted more than 200 astronauts from 18 nations
  • Key issue with ISS is to get transportation costs down and research spending up
  • Transportation accounts for 50 percent of the ISS budget, research 12 percent

Michael Baine
Lead Design Engineer, Axiom Module
Axiom Space

  • Axiom module would be as large as the U.S. laboratory module and Node 2 combined
  • Axiom would launch its module to the station in 2020
  • Axiom is considering launching the module on a Falcon Heavy
  • Module would add two docking ports to the space station
  • A lot of interest for commercial use of the Axiom module for in-space manufacturing, assembly, etc.
  • Anchor customers will likely be foreign governments
  • Module could detach safely from the space station in an emergency
  • Module would be detached once ISS is decommissioned and used to form the basis of a commercial station
  • Total addressable module for a commercial space station is $37 billion from 2020 to 2030
  • Addressable market includes research, manufacturing, tourism and other uses
  • Axiom’s goal is to making living and working in space commonplace
  • Axiom has completed a systems requirements review for the module
  • Company plans to begin a preliminary design review in December
  • Axiom has done a seed round of funding

Robert Bigelow
CEO, Bigelow Aerospace

  • XBASE plan would attach a B330 module to the space station
  • Company has funding to build two planned habitats
  • Depending upon client or investors to cover launch costs
  • Plans depend upon commercial crew being available in 2018-19 time period
  • Full-scale development prototypes being used to reduce number of problems on orbit
  • XBASE module could be detached from ISS at a later date, docked to an ULA ACES stage, and placed into orbit around the moon
  • Bigelow could assemble a space station in orbit with the same pressurized volume of the International Space Station in four launches
  • A pair of B330 modules docked together could accommodate four customers and three Bigelow crew members
  • Bigelow showed a rendering of a B330 module docked to a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft in orbit
  • Dragon will probably be the first spacecraft in operation (Bigelow also has contract for Boeing CST-100 spacecraft)
  • Bigelow could place habitats on the surface of the moon or on the moons of Mars
  • Might create a separate company to handle astronaut and client training
  • Will seek out the best resources in the United States to train crews and customers
  • Astronauts and customers will not have to learn to speak Russian
  • Success by Bigelow and other companies would save NASA “boat loads” of money by reducing cost of conducting research in Earth orbit.