NASA Awards Contract For Inflatable ISS Annex

By  //  March 30, 2013

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Two-Year Test Could Lead To Future Development

BREVARD COUNTY • KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLORIDA – Bigelow Aerospace has been awarded a $17.8 million NASA contract to test and create a new inflatable annex for the International Space Station.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is displayed during a media briefing with NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, left, and the President and founder of Bigelow Aerospace Robert T. Bigelow at Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas, Nev. (Image courtesy of NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Once constructed, the new 3,000-pound experimental laboratory built from a rubbery Kevlar-like material could herald a new age of inexpensive space habitats.

“Today we’re demonstrating progress on a technology that will advance important long-duration human spaceflight goals,” NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said in a press release. ““It’s really our first commercial real estate in space.”

Garver said.NASA’s partnership with Bigelow marks a new chapter in work to bring innovation to space, promoting cutting-edge technology that affords humans an opportunity to thrive in space safely and affordably.

Robert Bigelow, owner and president of Bigelow Aerospace, said the new contract could lead to even bigger things in the exploration of space.

“This is an embryonic situation where we’ve been in research-and-development mode for the last decade,” Bigelow said. “As with anything you’re trying to create from scratch, it takes a while to finally get to a point where you have something that’s marketable. We are starting to approach that point in our little company.”

NASA has awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module which is scheduled to arrive at the space station in 2015 for a two-year technology demonstration. Shown is an artist’s impression of the BEAM connected to the ISS. (Image courtesy of Bigelow Aerospace)

The inflatable test facility will be known as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) and is scheduled to launch on a SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the ISS in 2015.

Upon arrival at the ISS, astronauts will connect the BEAM inflatable module to the station’s Tranquility module and activate a pressurized system to expand the structure to its complete size of about 13 feet long and 10 feet wide with nearly 560 cubic feet of space inside.

BEAM will remain attached to the ISS for two years, during which time ISS crew members and NASA engineers will test its structural integrity and protection against micrometeorites and leakage and set out to track environmental concerns like radiation exposure and temperature.

Once its test mission of two years is finished, BEAM will be jettisoned from the ISS and be destroyed as it re-enters the atmosphere.

In February 2011, Bigelow Aerospace announced it would operate commercial space stations as part of NASA’s commercial crew program.

In a memorandum of understanding with NASA, Bigelow outlined a plan to launch its first Orbital Space Complex from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in 2014.

The inflatable modules would be launched using United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets.