Aerospace Metal

International Space Station Becoming Inflatable Space

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Forget blowup air mattresses. Space station astronauts are receiving their very first inflatable space.

It’s a tech demo intended to pave the way for Mars expeditions and moon bases, as well as outposts catering to tourists and scientists. Bigelow Aerospace is behind the experiment, which will get a ride to the International Space Station.

An unmanned SpaceX Falcon rocket is set to start late Friday afternoon, taking out a capsule packed with supplies with the pioneering pod in its trunk. Last 16, since shipments halted it’ll be the first channel delivery of SpaceX.

The Bigelow compartment is going to probably be inflated to the size of a little bedroom once attached to the station. BEAM for short, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, will remain there using astronauts — for 2 decades. It’ll be the first time an astronaut steps inside an expandable habitat structure in distance.

“It’s not only historic for our business, which clearly is true, but I think it’s historic for the architecture,” said Robert Bigelow, founder and president of Bigelow Aerospace, and creator of Budget Suites of America.

As a precursor to larger systems, Bigelow said BEAM could “change the entire dynamic for human habitation” in distance.

Meanwhile, employers– even nations — are clamoring to place their experiments inside the empty BEAM, Bigelow stated on Thursday in an interview with the Associated Press. He explained if everything goes well, this next step may happen in half an hour.

The North Las Vegas-based firm won’t disclose the substance utilized for BEAM’s outer layers — or even just how many layers — just that the layers are spread out to absorb and break up any penetrating bits of space junk. Back when NASA was working on the technology from the 1990s, a blend of Nextel, Kevlar, foam and other cloth formed the multilayer shield.

Its job TransHab was called by NASA. It never flew despite blueprints and ground mock-ups, to space. Designers envisioned four-level compartment, a inflatable, complete with dining, sleeping and sleeping areas for station teams.

Congress canceled TransHab in 2000 and the patent was bought by Bigelow Aerospace .

The company launched a pair of spacecraft a decade ago from Russia. Called Genesis I and II, they are still orbiting.

NASA, meanwhile, compensated Bigelow Aerospace $17.8 million for the upcoming evaluation flight, making the BEAM the very affordable module ever introduced into the space station, said Michael Gold, director of operations and business growth for Bigelow Aerospace.

Expandable habitats like BEAM, officials mentioned, need to be just as strong — or more powerful — than the standard metal cylinders which make up the present space station. BEAM has proven to be equivalent or even better against space debris compared to metal, said NASA project manager Rajib Dasgupta.

Bigelow goes as far as to say : “The aluminum cans are antiquated.”

Beyond low-Earth orbit, health risks are posed by radiation to crews inside walls. Thus spacecraft, he explained, are safer, bigger, cheaper and, possibly lasting.

Bigelow said BEAM is like a single-membrane balloon — “it’s not likely to go bankrupt” — or possibly a football. Think steel belts. Even then, “there is actuallyn’t much of a comparison, there is actuallyn’t. It is pretty publication.”

The attractiveness of habitats that are expandable is their compactness for launching. BEAM will travel in the unpressurized compartment of the Dragon capsule; the arrangement will be grabbed by the space station robot arm and attach it to a berthing port. Four times in bulk will enlarge when it’s inflated with a channel air at first special inflation tanks.

The collapsed BEAM measures about 7 feet long (2 meters) and 8 feet (21/2 meters) in diameter. Inflated, it will be about 13 feet long (4 meters) and 101/2 feet (3 meters) in diameter, and provide 565 cubic feet (16 cubic meters) of space, about the size of a small bedroom.

BEAM has been bundled up and unopened for more than a year — the SpaceX rocket grounding must have flown but delayed it. Bigelow stressed that the most important purpose is analyzing and they don’t know now after being compacted for such a long time, it will work.

The room will stay put for two years, providing measurements on radiation, impact resistance and temperature. Astronauts will venture within four to six times each year to inspect surfaces, gather environmental and air samples, and change out detectors. Otherwise, the hatch will stay sealed.

After two decades, BEAM is going to be cut loose burning on re-entry.

Bigelow Aerospace has plans for a much bigger suburban habitat B330, supplying 11,654 cubic feet (330 cubic meters) of inner space, the magnitude of a few buses. Then there’s the envisioned Olympus, a supersize distance combo of the company. NASA imagines inflatable modules at Mars awaiting astronauts traveling in the Orion spacecraft that’s hooked up using compartments to facilitate the one-time journey.

“It’s a significant piece to the human space exploration mystery,” Gold said. “Regardless of where you go, you want somewhere to work and live.”

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