The privately owned Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), launched in 2016, remained attached to the ISS in 2017. NASA originally contracted Bigelow Aerospace to test…
In April 2016, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was launched and attached to the International Space Station (ISS). During transport, the module was…
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was launched to the ISS in April 2016. Bigelow Aerospace contracted with NASA to develop BEAM for $17.8 million in 2013. Originally scheduled for launch to the ISS in 2015, BEAM’s ISS arrival was postponed to 2016 after one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 space launch vehicles disintegrated during launch in June 2015.
In addition to the ISS and Chinese space station, a private U.S. company and Russia are planning on launching their own space stations. Both projects are still in the planning stages, utilizing technology and experience derived from their predecessors.
In addition to the ISS and Chinese efforts, there are other plans, of varying degrees of maturity, for other space stations. Bigelow Aerospace has been developing inflatable module technology that can be used for commercial space stations. Two prototype spacecraft, Genesis I and II, were launched in 2006 and 2007, respectively, to demonstrate the technology.
In June 2009, Roscosmos informed the United States of its intention to develop an orbital research facility by the time the ISS is retired. This complex would be known as the Orbital Piloted Assembly and Experiment Complex (OPSEK). The Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module and Node Module are expected to dock with the ISS in 2012, but whenever the decommissioning of the ISS occurs, Roscosmos intends to detach those modules to use as the basis for OPSEK.
Bigelow Aerospace has been working for several years to develop commercial orbital habitats using expandable modules. This approach, leveraging technology licensed from NASA, involves launching modules in a compact form and inflating them once in orbit, creating much larger volumes than would be possible with traditional metallic structures.
Another type of in-space platform currently under development is Bigelow Aerospace’s Sundancer, an inflatable habitat tentatively scheduled for launch in 2011. Sundancer builds upon the success of the Genesis I and II demonstration modules, launched in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Sundancer is intended to accommodate experiments and support humans in orbit.
Bigelow Aerospace, an entrepreneurial company, is developing a second type of in-space platform: an inflatable habitat. Essentially a compressed module that expands once deployed in space, the habitat is designed to accommodate experiments and sustain human occupants in the future.