Bigelow to host media event for BEAM
On Thursday, March 12, reporters will have a chance to examine and photograph Bigelow Aerospace’s Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) before it is shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in preparation for launch. BEAM will be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) later in 2015 aboard CRS-8, the eighth contracted SpaceX resupply mission to the orbiting. The BEAM will be installed on the aft port of the Tranquility node. Mike Gold, Bigelow’s director of D.C. operations and business growth, and Bill Gerstenmaier NASA’s chief of human exploration and operations, championed commercial activity on the ISS, will answer questions from the media.
Bigelow Aerospace is a startup company based in Las Vegas, Nev., which specializes in expandable space modules—essentially balloons. Robert Bigelow formed the company in 1998 and licensed the technology from NASA’s TransHab project which was canceled in 2000. The House bill that canceled TransHab included an option to lease the technology to a private company.
Bigelow purchased the rights to the patents and since then has developed the Genesis I and Genesis II prototypes which were launched in 2006 and 2007, respectively, “proving that this expandable architecture can successfully withstand the vibration and loads of the launch environments,” according to a 2014 promotional video.
As noted, BEAM will be launched as a secondary payload in the cab of a SpaceX Dragon capsule lofted into orbit by a Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket. The robotic Canadarm2 will then attach it to the aft port of the Tranquility module. Once attached to the space station, it will be expanded by a pressurization system that will inflate it to its full size of approximately 13 feet. The BEAM will remain on the ISS for two years. During that time, astronauts will periodically enter the module and test its performance. They will also measure radiation levels in the module for comparison with radiation levels in the Space Station’s other, more traditional aluminum modules.
The BEAM’s skin is made of several layers including a layer of Vectran, a bulletproof fabric stronger than Kevlar which, according to tests, will not be penetrated by micrometeoroids that would penetrate the ISS’s aluminum modules. The radiation shielding is comparable to that in the rest of the ISS, but without the secondary effects produced by particles disintegrating as they pass through the aluminum. The BEAM walls also absorb sound better.
At the end of two years, the BEAM segment will be jettisoned from the station, afterward it will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
At a panel in Oct. 2014, Gold discussed the BEAM and Bigelow’s plans to commercialize space.
“Low Earth Orbit (LEO) will become a commercial domain,” Gold said. “Maybe it’s difficult to see at this point, but we go back to telecom—there was a time when every communications satellite was owned by the government.”
Gold added that private space activities are complicated by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), calling it the greatest barrier to getting something off Earth.
“We cannot fight the New Space vs. Old Space battle,” Gold continued, “with so few companies. The pie is too small. We need to come together as space enthusiasts.”
Gerstenmaier championed commercial involvement in the International Space Station, adding that NASA “owes the taxpayers some return.”
“The International Space Station is a uniquely suited test bed to demonstrate innovative exploration technologies like the BEAM,” Gerstenmaier said. “As we venture deeper into space on the path to Mars, habitats that allow for long-duration stays in space will be a critical capability. Using the station’s resources, we’ll learn how humans can work effectively with this technology in space, as we continue to advance our understanding in all aspects for long-duration spaceflight aboard the orbiting laboratory.”
The BEAM is part of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES), which supports innovative approaches to long-term living and working in space, focusing on four main areas: Crew Systems, Vehicle Systems, Operations, and Robotic Precursor Activities.
In the future, Bigelow plans to launch the B330, which was derived from the TransHab. At 330 cubic meters (hence the name), and a length of 22 feet (6.7meters), the B330 is larger than any of the ISS modules. Its docking ports will be compatible not only with other B330s, but with a variety of other types of spacecraft.
Bigelow plans to launch a space station that will consist of two B330s, which will provide two-thirds the habitable volume of the ISS. Bigelow’s long-term plans include both space tourism and missions to the Moon and Mars.
Collin R. Skocik has been captivated by space flight since the maiden flight of space shuttle Columbia in April of 1981. He frequently attends events hosted by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, and has met many astronauts in his experiences at Kennedy Space Center. He is a prolific author of science fiction as well as science and space-related articles.
In addition to the Voyage Into the Unknown series, he has also written the short story collection The Future Lives!, the science fiction novel Dreams of the Stars, and the disaster novel The Sunburst Fire. His first print sale was Asteroid Eternia in Encounters magazine. When he is not writing, he provides closed-captioning for the hearing impaired. He lives in Atlantic Beach, Florida.