Monday, January 21, 2013

Bigelow Expandable Activity Module

NASA has agreed on December 20th to buy a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) to add it to the International Space Station.   For only $17,800,000 the ISS will gain an extra 16 m3 of space - the total ISS is only 837 m3 in size.

The BEAM unit will be 40% larger than Genesis I and II that were launched in 2006 and 2007 respectively.  It is still much smaller than the BA 330 unit which are projected to be the core units of Bigelow's space stations.  The BEAM has 1/20th the space of the BA 330.

The module will be launched in mid 2015 and will remain as part of the ISS for two years.   This should prove the concept of inflatable habitats to everyone's satisfaction.   What seems odd to me is that currently there are no plans to really use the BEAM for much at all.   I would think that it could at least function as a storage space to allow for more space in the rest of the ISS

The technology used by Bigelow comes from NASA's TransHab project which NASA dropped in 2000.   The weight of the unit will be 1,360 kg, a similar sized rigid module would weigh 4,500 kg.  The cost to launch the BEAM will be about $7.5 million, a rigid module would cost about $25 million to launch.

The BEAM would seem to be the prototype for airlocks that will be used by Bigelow Aerospace space station.

The timeline for Bigelow to launch their first space station components has been slipping over the years.  In 2005 the date was 2010.   In 2010 the date had changed to 2014/15, now it is "as early as 2016".   Much of the delay is not the fault of Bigelow but the limitations in getting people into space.  

Bigelow is waiting for the SpaceX DragonRider and Boeing CST-100 to be ready for use.   There has been a gap between the end of the space shuttle and some new vehicle to launch people into space.   The delay has come about because the US government moved from developing their own vehicle to getting the private sector to design and build them.   At the moment it looks like mid 2015 before the first human use of the DragonRider will take place.

I suspect that 2017/18 is more likely when we will see the first Bigelow Aerospace space station will launch.  It sounds like the initial station will only be two BA 330 units.  We do now know the cost of getting to the station - $26.25 million via a DragonRider.   You can also get naming rights for a unit for only $25 million.   The cost to lease space will be $25 million per 60 days for 1/3 of a BA 330 - on an annual basis this would be $150 million a year for 1/3 of a unit or $450 million a year for a full BA 330.

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