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.

  • therealdmt

    Looks like Axiom could potentially throw a wrench in Bigelow’s plans

  • windbourne

    How so?
    The module is smaller than BA-330, likely is metal so heavier, more radiation, etc. likely is not set up for living quarters, IOW, they will use ISS life support.
    All in all, I suspect that it is less, but it will be another space station to compete.

  • passinglurker

    Well playing devil’s advocate the axiom module would be based on proven technology, it will have more ports to potentially expand from or admit vehicles to thanks to its ridged structure, also thanks to the ridgid structure the interior is easier to furnish efficiently because it’s just a simple cylinder instead of a round pill capsule shape, radiation concerns for commercial leo stations are over blown as you are inside the magnetosphere so you’d suffer health problems from microgravity well before the radiation dosage in leo gets you, and finally axiom is headed by a former iss director while biglowe is headed by an eccentric billionaire who believes in alien visitations and has an employee retention problem due to how his company has throttled back and forth over the years. Not to mention there is a need for competition in order for commercial space to truly succeed.

    Though that being said I think the best answer here is “both” simply for the sake of dissimilar redundancy

  • Douglas Messier

    Mike Sufferdini announced this plan at the New Space conference in June. He talked to reporters afterward. One thing he mentioned was that Axiom wanted to go with proven technology. He didn’t want to have to get into R&D to figure out how to pack equipment, systems, etc. inside of an inflatable module.

    It makes sense. Known technologies. No R&D costs. Experienced manufacturers that have built ISS modules. Extensive on-orbit experience with similar hardware. Cost and schedule easier to set and keep on due to fewer unknowns.

    You see why Axiom would approach it this way. NASA might also feel more comfortable with this approach. Potentially fewer unknowns and risks to ISS.

  • Paul451

    also thanks to the ridgid structure the interior is easier to furnish efficiently because it’s just a simple cylinder instead of a round pill capsule shape,

    Bigelow modules have a rigid structure through the core, to which equipment is attached.

    A conventional module is a central “corridor”, surrounded by four “walls” of equipment racks. With Bigelow, you have to picture it turned inside-out. Racks in four strips through the centre, “corridor” wrapped around the outside. (With additional soft-storage anywhere you want to attach it.)

  • windbourne

    oh make no mistake, I am a fanboy of BA.
    However, I’m more of a fan of different redundancy in systems.
    Im hoping that Axiom will have 80-95% of their parts different from BA. While it would lower costs to share things like lifesupport, this is where we really need them to be different manufacturers. That way if one is on the fritz, the other goes.
    Sharing things like Kitchen and say Shower are just fine.
    In fact, it would be good if BOTH BA and Axiom would agree to do 2 separate stations, but with each having 1 or more modules from each company.

  • windbourne

    As I pointed out elsewhere, I am more of a fan of BA, but fully support Axiom esp due to your last sentence.
    For us to go to the moon and mars we will need redundant systems all the way through.