Bigelow Aerospace Tests BEAM, Expandable Habitat Technology for Space Station
Founded in 1999 by visionary entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, the goal of Bigelow Aerospace is to create a new paradigm in space commerce and exploration via the development and use of revolutionary expandable habitat technology. Expandable habitats offer dramatically larger volumes than rigid, metallic structures as well as enhanced protection against both radiation and physical debris. Additionally, expandable habitats are lighter than traditional systems, take up less rocket fairing space, and most important of all in today’s fiscally constrained environment, Bigelow habitats are extremely affordable.
Bigelow Aerospace has already fabricated and deployed two subscale pathfinder spacecraft, Genesis I and Genesis II, which were launched in 2006 and 2007, respectively. A third prototype spacecraft, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (“BEAM”) is scheduled to be launched to the International Space Station (“ISS”) by NASA in 2015. When the BEAM is attached to the ISS it will demonstrate the value of expandable habitats as part of a crewed system.
In addition to the BEAM, Bigelow Aerospace is aggressively pursuing the development of its full-scale system, the BA 330. As the name indicates, the BA 330 will provide approximately 330 cubic meters of internal volume and will support a crew of up to six. BA 330s will be used to support a variety of public and private activities in and beyond Low Earth Orbit (“LEO”). Bigelow Aerospace is also working on even larger spacecraft, such as its ‘Olympus’ module, which will provide a massive 2,250 cubic meters of internal volume.
Regardless of the destination, LEO, the Moon, or Mars, Bigelow Aerospace’s expandable habitats will enable a new era in space commerce and exploration.
The Eventual Vision in the B-330, Click to Enlarge. Below is the Experimental Module Slated for Launch on SpaceX Cargo Resupply Mission (CRS-8) for Testing and Validation on the International Space Station
The pressurized volume of a 20 ton B330 is 330m³, compared to the 160m³ of the 15 ton ISS Destiny Module; offering 210% more habitable space with an increase of only 33% in mass.
Radiation & Ballistic Protection
The module provides radiation protection equivalent to or better than existing International Space Station (ISS) modules. When fully expanded, the hull thickness will be approximately 0.46m (18in) and offer ballistic protection superior to that currently afforded to ISS. The hull will also feature at least four large UV protection coated windows that will offer unparalleled earth viewing from orbit.
Launch Vehicles & Modular Design
The B330 can be deployed by multiple launch vehicles and features an architecture designed with modular expansion in mind. A single B330 can be joined in orbit by multiple vehicles, in addition to other B330 and Bigelow Aerospace spacecraft.
Bigelow Aerospace has a command center providing telemetry, orbital statistics and an onboard data logging system. There are currently four worldwide ground station locations with more in development.
Meet Bigelow Expandable Activity Module Experimental Design
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is an experimental program developed under a NASA contract in an effort to test and validate expandable habitat technology. Although BEAM is a fraction of the size of the B330, it will still serve as a vital pathfinder for validating the benefits of expandable habitats. NASA will leverage the International Space Station (ISS) in order to test this technology for a two-year demonstration period.
BEAM will be launched in the unpressurized aft trunk compartment of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on the eighth resupply mission to the ISS, SpaceX CRS-8. The launch is currently scheduled for Spring 2016.
- Increase Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of expandable habitat technology
- Demonstrate launch and deployment, as well as folding and packing techniques
- Determine radiation protection capability
- Demonstrate design performance such as thermal, structural, mechanical durability, long-term leak performance, etc.