Tag Archives: BEAM

Bigelow proposes extending life of its ISS module beyond its two year demo

Bigelow Aerospace is in negotiations with NASA to allow use on ISS of its demonstration inflatable BEAM module beyond its planned two year test mission.

BEAM is designed for a two-year mission on the ISS. The module is closed off from the rest of the station most of the time, with astronauts periodically entering BEAM to check the status of the module and instruments mounted inside.

NASA has previously indicated that it would dispose of BEAM at the end of its two-year mission, using the station’s robotic arm to detach the module and allow it to burn up in the atmosphere. There are no immediate plans, though, for use of the docking port where BEAM is installed after that two-year mission ends, opening the possibility for an extended mission.

Robert Bigelow has previously suggested there was commercial interest in the module. As a NASA press conference in April 2016 prior to the launch of BEAM, he said there were four different groups, both countries and companies, interested in flying experiments in BEAM. “We’re hoping that, maybe in half a year or something, we can get permission from NASA to accommodate these people in some way,” he said then.

It is typical NASA behavior to throw this module out after two years, rather than find a way to use it.

Posted from a hotel room in St. Louis, Missouri.

An update on the Bigelow inflatable module on ISS

NASA has released an update on the privately built inflatable BEAM module that is presently attached to ISS and is under-going two years of testing.

NASA and Bigelow Aerospace are pleased to report that, overall, BEAM is operating as expected and continues to produce valuable data. Structural engineers at NASA JSC confirmed that BEAM deployment loads upon the space station were very small, and continue to analyze the module’s structural data for comparison with ground tests and models. Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, have found no evidence of large debris impacts in the DIDS data to date—good news for any spacecraft. And radiation researchers at JSC have found that the dosage due to Galactic Cosmic Rays in BEAM is similar to other space station modules, and continue to analyze local “trapped” radiation particles, particularly from the South Atlantic Anomaly, to help determine additional shielding requirements for long-duration exploration missions.

None of this is a surprise. It seems to me that this testing program is a bit overdone, since NASA never did anything like this in orbit for its own modules. What I think is really happening is that the two-year test of Bigelow’s module was required politically within NASA because there were too many people there opposed to using a privately-built module. I also suspect that NASA got further pressure from the contractors, such as Boeing, who had previously owned this business, and did not want the competition from Bigelow. Thus, despite the fact that Bigelow has already launched two test modules of its own and proved the viability of its designs, it was forced by NASA to do an additional test under NASA’s supervision in order to squelch this opposition.

Astronauts enter privately built BEAM module

Led by American Jeff Williams, two astronauts opened the hatch and entered Bigelow’s BEAM inflatable module on ISS today.

Williams officially opened the hatch at 08:47 UTC. Along with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, Williams entered BEAM for the first time to collect an air sample and begin downloading data from sensors on the dynamics of BEAM’s expansion. The astronaut reported that the interior of BEAM looks “pristine”. However, he added the temperature was on the cool side – with Houston adding they recorded 44F as the temperature at bulkhead – but no condensation was visible. He then took air samples, as is the procedure for entering a new module.

They will install interior sensors over the next two days, and then shut the hatch. The module will then remain closed for most of its planned two year stay on ISS to test its operation in space.

The article also includes some nice details about the possible uses of Bigelow’s much larger B330 modules, two of which are under construction right now.

NASA to try module expansion again on Saturday

NASA will try again on Saturday to expand the privately built BEAM module on ISS.

They think the reason the module didn’t inflate as planned the first time is because it has been packed ready for launch for more than fifteen months, ten months longer than originally planned.

That extra time in a tight squeeze might explain why the first inflation attempt didn’t go as planned. BEAM’s Kevlar-like fabric “layers have a memory to them,” Lisa Kauke, BEAM deputy program manager at Bigelow Aerospace, said during today’s teleconference. “The longer they’re packed, the more they’re compressed, and then it takes a little while for the shape to return.” This interpretation is bolstered by the fact that BEAM continued to expand overnight Thursday into Friday morning, even though no more air was being pumped in, Crusan said.

Bigelow’s ISS module expansion halted

Engineers called a halt today to the expansion of Bigelow’s BEAM module on ISS when the procedure did not go as planned.

Originally, the plan was to use air from tanks located inside BEAM to inflate these bladders, however analysis showed that this could cause expansion to occur too fast and potentially place damagingly high loads on the ISS in the process, so instead the air will be supplied from the station in a more controlled manner. It was not actually known precisely how the inflation dynamics would occur, as it has only ever been done twice before (Genesis I and II), neither of which were viewable from external cameras such as those found on the ISS.

This proved to be a learning curve, as after two hours of adding a few seconds of air into the module, only the width expanded, as opposed to the length. Mission controllers decided it would be best to defer operations for the day to allow them to evaluate the next steps.

Privately-built inflatable module installed on ISS

The competition heats up: Bigelow Aerospace’s BEAM inflatable module, built in only three years for a mere $17 million, was installed on ISS this past weekend.

BEAM will allow Bigelow and NASA to demonstrate the capabilities of the inflatable habitat on ISS. It is expected to perform for at least two years of testing on the Station, providing a key shake out of the technology that is likely to play a major role in human deep space exploration. “(BEAM) will be a great way to test out the thermal characteristics of this new type of module, along with its radiation protection,” added Kopra. “It’s going to be a neat thing.”

Following its test period, the SSRMS will remove the module from the Station before releasing it Nadir (Earth-facing). The module will eventually re-enter around a year later.

How NASA will use Bigelow’s privately built ISS module

Not much it seems. The key paragraph is this:

Once installed, BEAM will be largely sealed off from the rest of ISS, with astronauts entering it every four to six months to retrieve data from sensors inside it. Crusan suggested NASA will consider making greater use of the module over time as the agency becomes more comfortable with its performance. That would require additional work inside the module, he said, since it has no active life support system beyond some fans.

This story illustrates NASA’s sometimes incredibly over-cautious approach to new technology. I grant that space is difficult and that it is always wise to be careful and to test thoroughly any new technology, but NASA sometimes carries this too far. For example, it took NASA more than two decades of testing before it finally approved the use of ion engines on a planetary mission (Dawn). Similarly, inflatable modules were abandoned by NASA initially, and wouldn’t even exist if a private company, Bigelow, hadn’t grabbed the technology and flown it successfully.

Privately built module for ISS unveiled today

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.

Privately built module heading to ISS next year

The competition heats up: An inflatable module, built by the private company Bigelow for NASA, will be launched next year to ISS inside a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

Read that sentence again to savor the reality of two private companies both building and launching this addition to ISS.

How the Bigelow module added to ISS will change the space equation.

How the Bigelow module added to ISS will change the space equation.

Looking a bit further down the road, the potential launch of a Bigelow BEAM module, particularly if it takes place on a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster could be a harbinger of much greater things to come. As Mars visionary Robert Zubrin and many others have observed, the addition of an inflatable module similar to that being considered for the station, to the SpaceX Dragon 2.0 capsule greatly increases the available space and capability of a future Dragon to serve both as a Mars transfer vehicle, and / or surface habitat. Add in the introduction of Falcon Heavy, and the pieces for an alternate vision of far more affordable (and timely) inner system exploration begin to fall into place.

Stewart Money has it exactly right. I have never accepted the claim that Orion was the only spacecraft being built that would be capable of going beyond low earth orbit. Add the right components to any manned vehicle, and you have an interplanetary spaceship.

The trick of course is adding the right components. For both Orion and Dragon, the present assumptions are much too nonchalant about what those components are. For humans to prosper on an interplanetary mission, the vessel requires a lot more than a mere capsule and single module.