NASA To Test Bigelow Expandable Module On Space Station
LAS VEGAS -- NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver announced Wednesday a newly planned addition to the International Space Station that will use the orbiting laboratory to test expandable space habitat technology. NASA has awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which is scheduled to arrive at the space station in 2015 for a two-year technology demonstration.
"Today we're demonstrating progress on a technology that will advance important long-duration human spaceflight goals," Garver said. "NASA's partnership with Bigelow opens a new chapter in our continuing work to bring the innovation of industry to space, heralding cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably."
The BEAM is scheduled to launch aboard the eighth SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the station contracted by NASA, currently planned for 2015. Following the arrival of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft carrying the BEAM to the station, astronauts will use the station's robotic arm to install the module on the aft port of the Tranquility node.
After the module is berthed to the Tranquility node, the station crew will activate a pressurization system to expand the structure to its full size using air stored within the packed module.
During the two-year test period, station crew members and ground-based engineers will gather performance data on the module, including its structural integrity and leak rate. An assortment of instruments embedded within module also will provide important insights on its response to the space environment. This includes radiation and temperature changes compared with traditional aluminum modules.
"The International Space Station is a uniquely suited test bed to demonstrate innovative exploration technologies like the BEAM," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "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."
Astronauts periodically will enter the module to gather performance data and perform inspections. Following the test period, the module will be jettisoned from the station, burning up on re-entry.
The BEAM project is sponsored by NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Program, which pioneers innovative approaches to rapidly and affordably develop prototype systems for future human exploration missions. The BEAM demonstration supports an AES objective to develop a deep space habitat for human missions beyond Earth orbit.
Artist illustration of Bigelow Aerospace's BA 330. Credit: Bigelow Aerospace
Many people are familiar with the memory of a space shuttle blasting off the launchpad powered by gigantic solid rocket boosters and those fortunate to have been around in the 1960s will have been lucky enough to witness the mighty Saturn V moon rocket launch Neil Armstrong and his crew to the Moon. Memories aside, space travel is changing as commercial enterprise develops transport for both crew and cargo.
Many companies are now developing spacecraft that will serve the needs of government agencies, companies wishing to put satellites into orbit and individuals prepared to pay for their space adventure. NASA is one of the space agencies that is hiring the services of private enterprise to deliver cargo and eventually crew to the space station. Recently NASA announced further funding support for some of the US companines developing crewships - SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Boeing.
Boeing is building its Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 space capsule to take humans into orbit. As reported by Sen, the recent drop tests of Boeing's CST-100 were carried out with help from another commercial space business, Bigelow Aerospace. Bigelow Aerospace plans to use the CST-100 to ferry customers to and from its planned Bigelow Orbiting Space Complex, an inflatable space station.
Artist illustration of Boeing's CST-100 capsule approaching Bigelow's BA 330 complex. Credit: Boeing/Bigelow
Bigelow Aerospace's mission is “to provide affordable options for spaceflight to national space agencies and corporate clients” - and they plan to do it, not with multi-billion pound rockets but with large inflatable space stations!
Formed in 1999, Bigelow Aerospace was the brainchild of Robert T Bigelow who wanted to revolutionise space commerce with the development of affordable, reliable, and robust expandable space habitats. His dream became reality in July 2006 with the launch of Genesis I, the company’s prototype expandable space habitat. Its second prototype, Genesis II, was launched June 2007. Both still orbit Earth.
The idea of using inflatable technology is nothing new and goes back to the 1950s when the U.S. launched Echo 1 and Echo 2, the first passive communications satellites. They were huge balloons measuring 30.5 metres across and made from mylar 0.013mm thick (the same material used by amateur astronomers for solar filters) and were capable of reflecting signals around the world. Sadly, with the lack of suitable material to advance the idea further, the development of inflatable space vehicles ground to a halt.
After nearly 40 years of advances in material science, momentum picked up again and it was Kevlar that was the focus for space engineers. NASA started research into the technology again and in 1990 announced plans for 'TransHab', their Transit Habitat for a mission to Mars which was to be an inflatable craft. Sadly again, further development was thwarted in 2000 due to cost challenges within the space agency not helped by the International Space Station running at $4.8 billion over budget.
Robert Bigelow recognised the benefits though and took up the challenge, setting up Bigelow Aerospace in 1999. The company has become the sole commercialiser of a number of NASA’s inflatable technologies. Genesis 1, the first of their craft to be launched into orbit, measured 4.4 metres by 2.54 metres and boasts 11.5 cubic metres of useable space compared to around 800 cubic metres inside the International Space Station. This doesn't sound too impressive granted, but the cost per cubic metre of volume makes it significantly cheaper to launch/operate than the space station. Its primary purpose was to prove the technology worked, and worked it did, impressively so. Launched just a year later in June 2007 was Genesis 2 which was similar in size and appearance to Genesis 1 but had many more systems on board that were not tested by its predecessor. You can track the orbit of Genesis II on the Bigelow Aerospace web site. Along with its various test systems it hosted a rather fun project called 'Fly Your Stuff'. This innovative project allowed anyone, at a cost of US$300, to send their own small items or pictures into space.
Genesis II in orbit. Credit: Bigelow Aerospace
One of the greatest benefits of using inflatable habitats is the protection offered to its inhabitants from radiation. When spacecraft made from more conventional metal structures are exposed to radiation, from events such as a coronal mass ejection, a secondary radiation effect occurs. This can either be from scattering of the radiation, or the atoms in the structure itself can become excited and re-radiate. This doesn't happen with non-metallic materials used in inflatable craft outer skins thereby significantly reducing the risk to its inhabitants.
At the heart of the inflatable technology is a material called Vectran, twice as strong as Kevlar and present in several layers of the 15cm thick skin of the Genesis craft. The flexible nature of the material results in further added safety for potential station inhabitants, a benefit supported by laboratory tests. It was found that micrometeoroids that would puncture the rigid skin of the International Space Station only penetrated half way through the skin of the Genesis craft. Because of its success so far, NASA are in talks with Bigelow for a module to attach to the ISS, called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. If it gets the go ahead, it could mean the first step in a new wave of space modules and craft.
Not only is the company talking to NASA about modules for the ISS but they have their sights on their own space station comprised of inflatable modules including their new BA 330 module which will be larger than the Genesis prototypes. The BA 330 space station, with a volume of 330 cubic metres, will be capable of accommodating up to six humans. It has protection from space debris with its "Micrometeorite and Orbital Debris Shield". Hypervelocity tests conducted by Bigelow Aerospace have shown that this shield provides greater protection than a traditional aluminium can design. The BA 330 design includes four large UV coated windows to give the occupants amazing views as they orbit Earth. The inflatable space station would use solar power and batteries and have its own environmental controls and life support system.
The constant need for cost savings and the increasing pressure on governments for health, education and security sadly means the exploration of space takes a back seat on many occasions. The times are changing though and where it was once the government funded organisations like NASA and Russia's space agency who dominated space exploration, its now the commercial organisations like Bigelow Aerospace coming up on the rails who will lead us into a new and exciting era of space exploration.
HISTORY OF EXPANDABLE SPACECRAFT
The concept of utilizing expandable, or, as referred to in the past, ‘inflatable’ spacecraft and space systems is not a new idea. The history of inflatable space systems goes back to the very beginning of America’s space program. As a matter of fact, the inflatable Echo 1 and Echo 2, the world’s first passive communications satellites, were one of the inaugural projects taken on in 1958 by a new federal agency called NASA. Boasting a diameter close to the height of a 10-story building, the Echo satellites have been described as “perhaps the most beautiful object[s] ever to be put into space.” The challenge that these first NASA engineers faced was how to place such a large structure into the relatively tiny fairing of a Thor-Delta rocket. The ultimate solution was to use an inflatable system, which led to the development of the Echo 1, 1A, and 2, and a brand new substance that the satellite was made out of called ‘Mylar’.
The Echo 2, constructed and launched in the early 1960’s
Even as early as the 1960s, the use of inflatables was not just being limited to communications satellites. With the success of Echo, NASA Langley Research Center wanted to apply the advantages of inflatables’ large, light volumes that would fit within small rocket fairings for crewed operations.
An early 24-foot (7.3m) inflatable space station module from 1961
Of course, in the 1960s, the available softgoods (such as rubber) were not sufficiently advanced to allow for the practical application of inflatables in the context of crewed operations. Thirty years later, in the 1990s, with the advent of Kevlar and similar advanced materials, the concept of an inflatable space station or habitat had become a real possibility. More specifically, in 1992, the President issued National Security Presidential Directive 6, authorizing the Space Exploration Initiative (“SEI”). Under SEI, NASA was to begin work developing plans for a future human mission to Mars. Again faced with the same problem as their predecessors in the 1960s, NASA needed to get a significant amount of volume into space and had only a limited amount of rocket fairing room with which to do so. This led to the idea of using an inflatable crew habitat for the journey to Mars, which was dubbed the ‘Transit Habitat’, more commonly referred to by its abbreviated name, ‘TransHab’.
Like many recent NASA initiatives, SEI was plagued by a lack of budgetary and political support, and was eventually abandoned. However, the idea of an inflatable crew habitat had great merit, and was revived as a crew quarters for the International Space Station (“ISS”). Despite the change in purpose, the original name, TransHab, was retained, and, in 1997, NASA again began focusing its attention on an inflatable habitat.
The advantages of TransHab were clear and numerous. Like all inflatable systems, TransHab offered the potential for a greater amount of on-orbit volume while, relative to a traditional metallic structure, taking up a small amount of rocket fairing space. Additionally, and perhaps most relevant to long-term orbital use, is the enhanced protection from radiation offered by inflatable habitats. Specifically, when exposed to cosmic rays or solar flares, traditional metallic habitats can suffer from damaging secondary radiation wherein the metal that comprises the habitat’s structure creates a scattering effect and/or becomes excited. In contrast, due to their use of non-metallic softgoods as their primary envelope material, inflatables can significantly reduce this dangerous phenomena.
Despite showing great technical promise, after the fact that the ISS program was $4.8 billion over budget came to light, the TransHab/crew habitat program was explicitly canceled by Congress in 2000.
Left – Artist’s conception of Transhab from the 1990’s.
Right – A Transhab test article being placed inside a vacuum chamber at NASA Johnson Space Center.
Although NASA initially developed the concept of inflatable space habitats, any substantial fabrication work was curtailed by Congress in 2000. Therefore, Bigelow Aerospace had to go through the process of re-designing much of what had been done before, developing, and eventually launching the world’s first expandable space habitat prototypes.
This first mission, to construct and test expandable habitat technology in an actual orbital environment, was called the Genesis program, and led to the development of Genesis I, a roughly 3000 lb (1363 kg) spacecraft, 14 feet (4.3 m) long with an 8 foot (2.4 m) diameter in its deployed configuration.
Launched on July 12, 2006 at the ISC Kosmotras Space and Missile Complex near Yasny, Russia aboard a converted Russian ICBM (the ’Dnepr’), Genesis I became Bigelow Aerospace’s first operational spacecraft and was a tremendous success.
Specifically, Genesis I accomplishments include:
The first spacecraft produced by Bigelow Aerospace.
The first expandable space habitat technology on orbit.
The development and validation of the necessary seals and metal to softgoods interfaces.
Proving that an expandable habitat can successfully withstand the vibration and loads of the launch environment.
Successfully verifying Bigelow Aerospace’s proprietary folding and packing techniques.
Demonstrating in microgravity Bigelow Aerospace’s pressurization and deployment process for an expandable envelope.
Marked the first commercial launch to take place at the ISC Kosmotras Space and Missile Complex.
Represented the first launch of a single, large payload aboard the Dnepr, taking full advantage of this innovative "swords into plowshares" transportation system.
Likely represented the lowest-cost mission of its kind in the history of aerospace, including spacecraft fabrication and the launch itself.
The spacecraft remains in orbit and is operational today, continuing to produce invaluable images, videos and data for Bigelow Aerospace. It is now demonstrating the long-term viability of expandable habitat technology in an actual orbital environment.
Genesis II was successfully launched from the Kosmotras Space and Missile Complex near the town of Yasny on June 28, 2007. Like its predecessor, Genesis II is testing and validating the technologies necessary to construct and deploy a full-scale, crewed, commercial orbital space complex.
Although externally, Genesis II may look like an exact duplicate of Genesis I, the similarities end there. Genesis II contains numerous systems not flown on its predecessor such as additional cameras, sensors, a Biobox, and a reaction wheel. Moreover, Genesis II afforded members of the general public the chance to participate in BA's efforts via the "Fly Your Stuff" program.
Genesis II contains 22 cameras on both the interior and outside of the spacecraft - nine more than Genesis I. The vision system includes articulated cameras with dual FireWire and Ethernet interfaces, as well as a wireless boom camera for exterior shots. Space-to-ground communications are provided by UHF, VHF and S-band antennas.
Magnetic torque rods, GPS and sun sensors and a reaction-wheel system provide attitude control and stabilization, as Genesis II does not have any propulsion of its own.
Since its launch, Genesis II has been providing a cornucopia of data and images back to Bigelow Aerospace's Mission Control Center in North Las Vegas, Nevada. It has also successfully tested the world's first in-orbit image projection system and will continue to set the stage for BA's future manned orbital complexes.
The BA 330 can function as an independent space station, or several BA 330 habitats can be connected together in a modular fashion to create an even larger and more capable orbital space complex.
Up to six on a long-term basis
Bigelow Aerospace’s shielding is equivalent to or better than the International Space Station and substantially reduces the dangerous impact of secondary radiation.
BA 330 utilizes an innovative Micrometeorite and Orbital Debris Shield. Hypervelocity tests conducted by Bigelow Aerospace have demonstrated that this shielding structure provides protection superior to that of the traditional “aluminum can” designs.
BA 330 utilizes two propulsion systems on the fore and aft of the spacecraft. The aft propulsion system can be refueled and reused.
Every BA 330 habitat will include an independent power system comprised of solar arrays and batteries.
Each module will contain an independent avionics system to support navigation, re-boost, docking, and other maneuvering activities.
Environment Control and Life Support System:
Each BA330 will contain its own independent ECLS system including lavatory and hygiene facilities.
BA 330 will boast four large windows coated with a film for UV protection, providing an unparalleled opportunity for both celestial and terrestrial viewing.
Quelle: NASA, Bigelow-Aerospace