Tag Archives: Bigelow Aerospace

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.

ULA to launch two Bigelow space station modules

The competition heats up: ULA and Bigelow Aerospace have announced a partnership to launch two of Bigelow’s largest space station modules, each with about as much interior space as both Skylab and Mir.

Both will be ready for launch by 2020. Neither company has made clear if they have any outside investment, though they left open the option of working with NASA and having the modules attached to ISS.

SpaceX sets date for next Dragon launch

The competition heats up: SpaceX has scheduled April 8 for the next Falcon 9 launch, set to carry its first Dragon capsule since the launch failure last year.

Though this is the most important news contained by the article, its focus is instead on the various preparations that SpaceX is doing at its Texas test facility to prepare for this launch as well as the increased launch rate required for the company to catch up on its schedule.

Note that the Dragon launch will also be significant in that it will be carrying Bigelow’s inflatable test module for ISS, built for only $17 million in less than 2 years. NASA, ESA, or JAXA would have required at least half a billion and several years to have accomplished the same.

Lay-offs at Bigelow

The competition cools down? Bigelow Aerospace has laid off somewhere between 30 and 50 employees out of approximately 150 total employees.

In a Jan. 6 statement provided to SpaceNews, Bigelow Aerospace President Robert Bigelow said that the company determined that many areas of the company were “overstaffed” and decided to lay off employees to reduce the company’s expenses. “In December of 2015, we analyzed the amount of staff that we employed throughout all of our departments at Bigelow Aerospace, and discovered that numerous departments were overstaffed,” Bigelow said in the statement. “Regrettably, we had to make the choice that, beginning with the New Year, we need to follow standard business protocols, which sensibly requires an attempt to achieve balance in how much staff is necessary.”

The lay-offs do not necessarily indicate the company is failing, only that it is adjusting its payroll to the specific conditions of the moment. They have completed construction of their inflatable module for ISS and now only await its launch. Time to save money until they win their next contract.

NASA considers using Bigelow module for deep space missions

The competition heats up: Rather than build something in-house for gobs of money and decades of work, NASA is considering using Bigelow Aerospace’s largest inflatable modules for its deep space missions.

What has happened is that NASA has signed a joint agreement with Bigelow to study the possibility of using Bigelow’s B330 module as a transport habitat on long flights. The agency really has no choice, as it doesn’t have the funding to develop the necessary large spacecraft for these missions, and Bigelow can provide them to it for much less.

This description of the background of Bigelow’s inflatable modules illustrates why NASA can’t build these itself:

The B330 evolved from the Genesis I and II modules that Bigelow Aerospace had launched into space. Those technology demonstrators were born out of the NASA project known as TransHab. The TransHab was an inflatable module designed for the ISS but was ultimately cancelled in 1999 due to budget constraints. The module would have provided a 4 level 27.5 feet (8.4 meter) diameter habitat for the astronauts.

After TransHab was cancelled, Bigelow worked with NASA on a technology transfer, giving Bigelow Aerospace exclusive rights to the technology. Using this technology, Bigelow designed, built and launched two technology demonstrators. They are still on orbit today. Genesis I was launched in 2006 with it’s sister ship launching in 2007. Both ships tested flight operations processes and on-board electronics and have performed above design specifications. [emphasis mine]

Unlike NASA, as a private company Bigelow was able to build this technology quickly and at a low cost. With the new agreement, the goal will be study the operation of a B330 in independent flight in low Earth orbit. Whether an actual B330 will be build and launched however is not yet clear.

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.

Bigelow Aerospace hiring

The competition heats up: Bigelow Aerospace hired two former NASA astronauts today as part of a broader expansion of the company in anticipation of .the completion of its first two private space modules in 2017.

Bigelow said the smallest space station his company plans to fly will require two BA330 modules, each of which has 330 cubic meters of internal space. The company expects to finish building the first two BA330s by 2017, Bigelow said.

Ham and Zamka are former military aviators who have piloted and commanded space shuttle missions. Their NASA and military credentials are part of the appeal for Bigelow, who plans to put both former space fliers to work as recruiters. “I would like to see us have half a dozen astronauts onboard by the end of the year,” Bigelow said.

Each Bigelow Aerospace space station would require about a dozen astronauts, including orbital, ground and backup personnel. The 660-cubic-foot stations would host four paying clients, who would be assisted by three company astronauts responsible for day-to-day maintenance, Bigelow said. Initially, clients and crews would cycle in and out of the stations in 90-day shifts, Bigelow said. Eventually, the company hopes to shorten that cycle to 60 days.

The company had laid off many of its workers several years ago and was essential dormant, waiting for the development of some sort of affordable commercial manned spacecraft capability. It now appears they are expecting SpaceX, Boeing, or Sierra Nevada to succeed in providing this service in the next few years.

Bigelow announces prices for visiting or renting their space station modules.

The competition heats up: Bigelow Aerospace announces prices for visiting or renting their space station modules.

For countries, companies, or even visiting individuals that wish to utilize SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule, Bigelow Aerospace will be able to transport an astronaut to the Alpha Station for only $26.25 million. Using Boeing’s CST-100 capsule and the Atlas V rocket, astronauts can be launched to the Alpha Station for $36.75 million per seat. In stark contrast to the short stays of a week or so aboard the ISS that we have seen wealthy individuals pay as much as $40 million for, astronauts visiting the Bigelow station will enjoy 10 – 60 days in orbit. During this time, visiting astronauts will be granted access to the Alpha Station’s shared research facilities. Examples of available equipment include a centrifuge, glove-box, microscope, furnace, and freezer. Also, potential clients should note that as opposed to the ISS, where astronauts dedicate the lion’s share of their time to supporting station operations and maintenance, astronauts aboard the Alpha Station will be able to focus exclusively on their own experiments and activities, ensuring that both nations and companies can gain full value from their investment in a human spaceflight program. [emphasis in original]

The release also describes price plans whereby the customer can rent part of a module for a period of time, as well as the prices for the naming rights to a module.

I hadn’t heard about it elsewhere and do not remember if this is old news or not. The announcement on the website is undated. Nonetheless, as the release notes, these prices undercut the fees charged by the Russians and provide far more opportunities for the customer.

Bigelow Aerospace has expanded its workforce as well doubled its factory space in response to the commercial contracts NASA recently awarded.

The competition heats up: Bigelow Aerospace has expanded its workforce as well doubled its factory space in response to the commercial contracts NASA recently awarded.

The company just opened a 185,000-square-foot addition, bringing its North Las Vegas plant up to about 350,000 square feet. It slashed its work force from 150 before the recession to 50 during the downturn; now, it’s looking to jump back up to 90 workers by Christmas. It’s hiring structural, mechanical and electrical engineers, as well as chemists, molecular biologists and workers who craft composite spacecraft parts.

Hat tip to Clark Lindsey at NewSpace Watch.