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Bigelow Aerospace’s BEAM module will be used as storage space for ISS

– News of December 12, 2017 –

Since spring 2016, the International Space Station (ISS) has been hosting the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), an inflatable module of the American company Bigelow Aerospace. BEAM was until now in test phase. It was closed and was empty to test its ability to withstand the conditions of space vacuum. This test phase was a success.

NASA will now use the Bigelow Aerospace inflatable module as a storage space for the space station. Initially, the inflatable module was to remain docked at the space station for two years. It will finally stay 5 years. The BEAM module has the particularity of being an inflatable module with a weight of one tonne. It has small dimensions when it is deflated : it is then able to fit in the cargo bay of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule. Once placed in orbit, it is inflated to reach the comfortable volume of 16 cubic meters. The walls of the BEAM are composed of several layers of flexible materials able to seal the module but also its protection against radiation and micrometeorites. Thermal insulation also forms the inflatable module of Bigelow Aerospace.

Bigelow Aerospace hopes that this way of building space modules will become more widespread. The US company hopes to launch one or two of its B330 inflatable modules in 2020 through a partnership with ULA. In this case, the inflatable module must not necessarily be attached to the International Space Station : the inflatable modules of Bigelow Aerospace may be independent in space. The B330 will offer a pressurized volume of 330 cubic meters, which is much higher than the small inflatable module BEAM. Currently in testing, the business model of Bigelow Aerospace will be to rent its inflatable modules to tourists, nations or private projects.

The company aims to build and market the BA 2100 module that would offer a considerable living space. This module could be put into orbit by a single shot of a heavy rocket. But before, it is already necessary that the BEAM module proves itself aboard the International Space Station during the next three years. It is not impossible that the module will be hit by one or two micro-meteorites during this period, which would be the ultimate test for the viability of the concept.

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