In May, Bigelow Aerospace unveiled a mock-up of the BA 330, an inflatable space habitat that can become a space station or space hotel. The pill-shaped dwelling is 13,7 m long and 3,6 m in diameter during transport. Once in orbit, its diameter expands to 6,7 m – creating three times the volume of the International Space Station (ISS)’s largest module.
A smaller habitat – the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) – is slated to dock with the ISS for testing next year. Bigelow plans to launch two full-scale BA 330s by 2017, the latest sign that personal space travel may (finally) become reality.
Learn more about inflatable space habitats and watch the BA 330 undergo testing in this video…
How did it all begin?
Robert Bigelow founded Bigelow Aerospace in 1999 and set out to develop and use revolutionary expandable space habitats.
Based on the design of Nasa’s TransHab programme that was cancelled in 2000, Bigelow Aerospace’s first mission was the Genesis programme, which entailed constructing and testing expandable habitat technology in an actual orbital environment. Genesis I and Genesis II were successfully launched in 2006 and 2007, respectively.
The third planned launch was the Sundancer; however, in July 2011, this development was halted. Instead, the company would aggressively pursue the development of its full-scale system, the BA 330.
As the name indicates, the BA 330 will provide approximately 330 cubic metres of internal volume and will support a crew of up to six. Bigelow Aerospace’s Alpha Station – the first of many commercial Bigelow space stations – will initially be comprised of two BA 330s, which will be used to support a variety of public and private activities in and beyond Low Earth Orbit (“LEO”).
Bigelow Aerospace is similarly working on even larger spacecraft, such as its Olympus module (the BA 2100), which will provide a massive 2 100 cubic metres of internal volume – over six times as large as the BA 330.
If that wasn’t enough, Nasa contracted Bigelow Aerospace at the end of 2012 to create the BEAM. Scheduled to be launched and attached to the ISS by Nasa in 2015, the BEAM will demonstrate the value of expandable habitats as part of a crewed system. The BEAM module’s structural integrity, leak rate, radiation dosage and temperature changes will be tested over a notional two-year long mission.