Privately built module for ISS unveiled today

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The competition heats up: Bigelow Aerospace today unveiled the inflatable habitable module it is building for ISS that will launch in September.

The total cost for this module was $17 million, compared to the billion that NASA routinely spent to build its own modules.



  • geoffc

    Now to be fair, the BEAM is teeny compared to even the smallest US modules (Node 1, 2, or 3). It does not carry life support systems. It does not have more than a single CBM docking port.

    It is a VERY simple module. A better comparison would be price on the MPLM from Alenia, that was left at the station after the end of the Shuttle era. Best quote I could find was 3 MPLM’s for $300 million. Then 20-40 million to modify it to be a Permanent Module (PMM). So $17 in 2014 dollars vs 120 million in 1990’s dollars.

    So yes, BEAM is a great deal, but still small compared to the PMM.

    Having said all that, it was just to be fair! Go Bigelow! I want to see a BA-330 in orbit recieve a Dragon V2 before the ISS does!

  • Okay, you are right, I was overstating the difference a bit. Nonetheless, $17 million in 2014 dollars vs $120 million in 1990s dollars still makes BEAM about a tenth the cost. Tells us quite a lot about the difference between government and private enterprise.

  • Edward

    We aren’t the only ones excited about private enterprise. This article tells us that NASA is excited, too.

    “‘At some point this space station will wear out and there needs to be a follow-on space station,’ said William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations … ‘What we’re hoping for is that the private sector picks that up.'”

    I have a comment about another quote from the Space News article:

    “If the space station ends in the 2020s and there’s nothing to follow it, we will have lost all of this effort in research and benefits to humanity.”

    Because NASA did not follow Apollo with anything particularly useful, we lost virtually all the effort of that very expensive program, too.

    As Max said in another post, at the time of Apollo, we all expected man would be living on the moon by now.

    Costs between individual modules may be difficult to compare or contrast successfully. Each module has its own purpose, the on-board equipment differs between modules, and these costs do not include the cost of infrastructure, such as the solar arrays. As I understand it, BEAM is intended to be fairly empty, without science experiments or living quarters, so $17 million seems to be pretty much the price of an empty “hull.” However, in a decade or so, we should be able to compare the science generated from Bigelow (or other manufacturers’) space stations and the ISS and contrast that with the relative costs of those stations.

    The ISS almost certainly starts off with a cost disadvantage, but that may be a result of NASA designing a be-all do-all space station rather than a series of smaller stations with specific purposes and goals. Making one large station had the disadvantage that everything had to be compatible and be coordinated together. The complexity of the project resulted in far greater costs than we might otherwise expect, even from a government project and all the political wrangling the wasteful spending (read: pork-barrel spending) that wrangling generates.

    How many space stations can Bigelow put up for an equivalent amount (about $100 billion construction cost), and how much science would come from those stations and the cost of operations, including launching crews (another $50 billion operating costs for ISS)?

    NASA had a serious problem, because having only a few space shuttles making a total of about four to six flights a year meant that multiple stations were not a practical solution. There may also have been a “keeping up with the Joneses” problem, in that the MIR station was large and complex, and Congress may have wanted something to make the US look better than the Soviets/Russians.

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