Tag Archives: Bigelow

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.

Dragon arrives at ISS

The competition heats up: SpaceX’s Dragon capsule has been berthed with ISS, bringing with it Bigelow’s privately built inflatable test module.

This berthing also makes it the first time the two American cargo freighters, Dragon and Cygnus, are docked at ISS at the same time.

In a related non-news story, the head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, which now controls that country’s entire aerospace industry, claimed in a television interview today that Russia is the world’s “undisputed leader … in launch vehicles and launch services,” noting that they launch about 40% of all launches worldwide.

That’s nice for him to say, but just because you say it doesn’t make it so. I expect that 40% number (which includes all Russian government launches and is thus inflated from their actual market share) to shrink considerably in the coming years, as the Russian space industry has shown a complete inability to innovate in the last twenty years. With the consolidation of that industry into a single corporation all run by the government, I do not expect that inability to go away anytime soon.

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.

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.

Update on Bigelow’s ISS module

This article is a nice overview of Bigelow’s planned inflatable module for ISS, due to launch next year, and includes some good images.

I found this paragraph especially intriguing:

Earlier this year, Bigelow announced how much it’ll cost you to spend some time inside the BA 330 when it launches. Expect to pay $25 million for a sixty day lease of one-third of the station — if you can get yourself there and back. Should you need a ride, round-trip taxi service between SpaceX and your local launching pad will run you an additional $26.5 million.

That’s a total cost of just over $50 million for a sixty day stay in space.

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.

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.

Boeing and Bigelow show off their respective manned capsule and space station modules.

The competition heats up: Boeing and Bigelow show off their respective manned capsule and space station module. More here.

The images of Bigelow’s mock-up of its BA-330 space module are what is especially interesting, considering that we have seen similar mock-ups already of the interior of Boeing’s CST-100 capsule.

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.

Some more details have been revealed about Bigelow’s deal with NASA to send one of its modules to ISS.

Some more details have been revealed about Bigelow’s deal with NASA to send one of its modules to ISS.

This is apparently going to be another test of a smaller prototype, similar to Bigelow’s Genesis I and Genesis II modules already in orbit, but this time docked to a manned station.

What is interesting however about this article above is that reveals the names of the seven countries that have signed an agreement with Bigelow for future use of the company’s orbiting stations:

In another interesting development, Bigelow has named the seven sovereign customers who’ve expressed interest in leasing space aboard a future Bigelow commercial space station. Bigelow has preliminary agreements with the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Sweden and the United Arab Emirate of Dubai, according to Reuters. According to another report by Leonard David, Bigelow expects to have two BA 330 modules ready for construction of Space Station Alpha by late 2016. The Bigelow 330 is a much larger module, weighing 43,000 pounds with a diameter of 22 feet and length of 31 feet.

Bigelow Aerospace previously announced that it plans to charge sovereign customers $23 million for a 30-day stay aboard a Bigelow space station. That price includes space transportation, astronaut training, and consumables.

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.

Private space station builder Bigelow is hiring again.

This bodes well: Private space station builder Bigelow is hiring again.

One interesting tidbit from this article is the description of the company’s negotiations with NASA to attach a Bigelow module to ISS.

The company has been negotiating with NASA for about two years on the potential deal, and that Bigelow has completed various planning and development milestones for NASA. “We’ve been in a series of discussions with NASA over the past two years, with regard to the BEAM project,” Gold told Space News. “They were initiated as part of a proposal in 2010, and we’re hopeful an announcement will be made in the not-too-distant future.”

NASA gave no sign that a deal with Bigelow was imminent. “We do have a no-cost contract with Bigelow to cover early requirements development [for BEAM] but it is not for the flight article,” NASA spokesman Josh Buck said in a March 20 email. “The Agency has not made a decision to go to a flight system yet.” [emphasis mine]

Two years to discuss “planning and development,” and still no decision. My guess is that NASA management doesn’t want to buy a Bigelow module, as it would be relatively cheap and therefore wouldn’t spread much money to NASA centers. They just can’t say no for political reasons.

And if they do want to do it, the slow pace of their decision-making process demonstrates clearly why they shouldn’t be entrusted to build anything in the future.

Bigelow in negotiations to supply privately-built modules to ISS

Bigelow Aerospace is in negotiations with both NASA and Japan to supply ISS with privately-built modules

The module could be rented out as an ISS storage unit, making the station less dependent on frequent resupply flights, says Hiroshi Kikuchi of JAMSS. To show that the modules are capable of safe, crewed operation, Bigelow is also negotiating with NASA to attach one to a US-owned ISS module.