Results after one year on ISS for Bigelow’s inflatable module


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Capitalism in space: NASA has released some of its findings learned from Bigelow’s inflatable BEAM module, attached now to ISS for one year.

During the first year, NASA and its astronauts on board the station have sought primarily to test the module’s ability to withstand space debris—as a rapidly depressurized habitat would be a bad thing in space. And indeed, sensors inside the module have recorded “a few probable” impacts from micrometeoroid debris strikes, according to NASA’s Langley Research Center. Fortunately, the module’s multiple layers of kevlar-like weave have prevented any penetration by the debris.

They have also found that the cosmic ray dosage in the module seems comparable to the rest of the station. They are now using the module to test the radiation shielding capability of several different kinds of materials.

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7 comments

  • Anthony Domanico

    I remember Bigelow stating that astronauts would be better off in his space station from a debris and radiation mitigation stand point. I hope the further tests they plan to do will confirm this claim. Talk about capitalism in space, Bigelow said he has invested something on the order of $250 million of his personal fortune into his company. That’s more than twice the money that Musk initially put into SpaceX.

    I really want Bigelow to be rewarded with a NASA contract on the order of commercial crew. He said he is going to have a B330 ready by 2020 whether the transportation systems are ready or not. Gutsy, but I like it.

    Does anyone agree or disagree with me? Think they will get a substantial contract with NASA?

  • Anthony Domanico asked, “Think [Bigelow] will get a substantial contract with NASA?”

    It is very very possible, but there are a lot of caveats. We don’t yet know what Trump’s overall space policy will be. We don’t know if NASA is going to the Moon or is going to leave that to private enterprise. And the big contractors (Boeing, Lockheed Martin) who have owned the habitable module business for decades are not going to sit back and let Bigelow take their business. There will be a fight, and much of it will take place in Congress where pork, not practicality, often rules.

    What I want to happen more than anything is for a private company (even Bigelow) to put together a business plan that would allow them to sell passage on a Bigelow module for tourist flights either in Earth orbit or around the Moon. Imagine if SpaceX used its Falcon Heavy to launch a Bigelow module, then a Falcon 9 to haul passengers up to it on a Dragon. Money to be made all around! And politics and pork will not play a role, since no tax dollars will be at stake.

  • wayne

    Q: referencing this Bigelow Module–
    –Will this ever be brought back to Earth and analyzed, or what?

  • Cotour

    I found this interesting:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4554970/Robert-Bigelow-absolutely-convinced-aliens-Earth.html

    That’s a pretty absolute and non ambiguous statement by Bigelow. Does NASA have a problem with this opinion in a major contractor?

  • Tom Billings

    “Does NASA have a problem with this opinion in a major contractor?”

    Only in that they apparently ask media to not ask their official opinion about it. Like me, NASA don’t seem to much care what motivates Bigelow, as long as he contributes. Since he’s using one of Senator Shelby’s favorite contractors for a ride, ULA, he’s not going to get opposition there. The day he admits he’ll use a Falcon Heavy though, expect to see every nasty hit piece imaginable start coming out. Until we are actually able to put spacecraft into Space whether the SLS/Orion coalition wants them or not (my estimate, around 2020) then this will be a concern that shapes at least tactical decisions.

  • Edward

    Anthony Domanico asked: “I really want Bigelow to be rewarded with a NASA contract on the order of commercial crew. He said he is going to have a B330 ready by 2020 whether the transportation systems are ready or not. Gutsy, but I like it. Does anyone agree or disagree with me? Think they will get a substantial contract with NASA?

    I agree. Bigelow is not the only gutsy guy in the industry. Peter Diamandis set up his X-Prize, similar to the Orteig Prize that the Spirit of St. Louis won, in order to get a reusable manned rocket into suborbital space twice in a single week, but not only did no one have any designs, plans, or ideas for doing so, but Diamandis did not have the $10 million prize money when he made the announcement. Talk about bold!

    That others were enthusiastic and creative enough to enter the competition (even before there was prize money pledged), that someone was enthusiastic enough to put up the prize money, and that still others were brave enough to risk their lives in the attempt shows that boldness can pay off in the aerospace business. Yes, that applies to both prize competitions. Yes, people died attempting to cross the Atlantic for the Orteig Prize.

    I think that once ISS is closed, NASA will turn to commercial space stations, because NASA is not working on a replacement. Bigelow, or another company, will get a contract with NASA.

    In the About section of BtB, Anthony Domanico asked Robert: “Do you think the policy paper will be effective given that policy makers are clearly motivated by getting the biggest piece of the pie for their constituents? If you exclude the government markets (domestic and foreign), do you think the private sector could support a Bigelow space station? If not, when will it be sustainable without government as an anchor customer? Based on your comments on The Space Show, it sounds like you don’t put much stock in ULA’s plan to reuse the engines on the first stage. What do you think about their plan to have a reusable upper stage, the system they dubbed ACES?
    https://behindtheblack.com/about/#comment-987705

    I would like to add my own comments on these questions.

    I think that a larger campaign than a single paper is needed to achieve the desired result, but Robert’s paper is one that has already gained attention. It is a good step in nudging the right people in the right direction. The space business is spreading throughout the nation, so more and more policy makers representing many regions are getting slowly increasing incentives to support space activities.

    I think that there is enough pent up demand for space research that a Bigelow (or other) space habitat laboratory would make plenty of money. If construction and launch costs are $250 million (a guess based upon Bigelow’s previous expenditures), and Bigelow charges $30 million per man-month per experimenter (a price I read, based upon a Bigelow/Boeing partnership), and a company such as NanoRacks contracts with the experimenters and supplies the astronauts, Bigelow will likely break even in less than five years on each lab it puts into space, even if it is not continuously occupied.

    NASA requires that data collected on the ISS be made public domain after only five years, but Bigelow could write contracts similar to plenty of Earth-based laboratories, and the data collected in a Bigelow (or other) space lab could be proprietary in perpetuity. This alone could provide incentive to a large number of experimenters who are not yet doing research in orbit.

    Why exclude government markets from the profitability of a space habitat? Even if NASA does contract with Bigelow, it is a legitimate sale, and when the ISS is eventually abandoned (what a shame that will be, as it was terribly expensive), NASA will still have its own needs for space research that could be done relatively inexpensively with a private space lab, once again being a legitimate profit. Plenty of other governments have already started their own space programs, but cannot afford to develop their own launch rockets, manned craft, or manned space labs, and Bigelow (and others) could make their fortune providing these labs or merely renting part-time space on these labs, just as SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin, and perhaps Sierra Nevada can make fortunes delivering people and experiments to these labs.

    Ixion and Axiom Space are two other companies that are competing for a contract to install another commercial module onto the ISS in anticipation of future commercial space laboratories, and Orbital ATK has proposed converting their Cygnus spacecraft into a space habitat or module. At least four companies anticipate a sustainable market for commercial destinations for manned spacecraft.

    Reusing the ULA engines will save a lot of money, but I think that reusing the entire rocket is the better way to go. There is often the analogy comparing one-use rockets to flying a Boeing 747 from coast to coast, then throwing it away. A similar analogy to ULA’s plan is: reuse the very expensive engines but throw away the expensive airframe.

    This is why Blue Origin designed their New Shepard rocket and Virgin Galactic designed their SpaceShipTwo (as well as White Knight Two) to be reusable. As with transcontinental flight, it greatly reduces the cost for each flight, making suborbital space tourism affordable.

    ACES is a nice idea, and it probably depends upon a robust commercial space program. I think this planned space tug could help reduce the fuel requirements aboard geostationary satellites, as the tug can place them in the proper orbit rather than the satellite having to be designed, built, and fueled for that task. ULA may find itself with quite a good business model, similar to the Jupiter tug that Lockheed Martin had proposed for the second generation of commercial resupply missions.

    ULA’s Cis-Lunar-1000 idea seems to be a good case, if there is a market for something like ACES to get it all started.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxftPmpt7aA

  • LocalFluff

    Bigelow’s statement about aliens might be his grab of the popular space media market that is left after Musk stole the Mars enthusiasts. Now Richard Branson only has the Flat Earth Society left!

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