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Electronics & Test
NASA Awards Bigelow Aerospace $17.8M to Add New Module to ISS
2/20/2013

NASA has awarded Bigelow Aerospace a $17.8 million contract to deliver its Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (shown here connected to the ISS in a photo illustration) to the International Space Station for experimental use for two years upon its launch to the station in 2015. The move will serve mainly as a technology demonstration to see how a space module made of non-metallic material instead of aluminum will handle radiation and thermal transmissions in space.   (Source: Bigelow Aerospace)
NASA has awarded Bigelow Aerospace a $17.8 million contract to deliver its Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (shown here connected to the ISS in a photo illustration) to the International Space Station for experimental use for two years upon its launch to the station in 2015. The move will serve mainly as a technology demonstration to see how a space module made of non-metallic material instead of aluminum will handle radiation and thermal transmissions in space.
(Source: Bigelow Aerospace)

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Elizabeth M
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The future of space exploration
Elizabeth M   2/20/2013 11:41:34 AM
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NASA's mission is changing and while the agency doesn't have the aura of wonder it once had in its heyday, it's still quite interesting to see how it's exploration of space will change as it works with commercial partners. Bigelow's module allows NASA to expand the ISS without spending a lot of its own investment, the research that will be done in the module will be important as the agency ponders longer missions that put humans deeper into space than they have yet been.

TJ McDermott
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Re: The future of space exploration
TJ McDermott   2/20/2013 2:20:17 PM
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Didn't Bigelow acquire the inflatable module technology from NASA when the original inflatable habitation module for the ISS was cancelled?

From what I've read, the Bigelow inflatables will be more resistant to micrometeoroid damage than hard-shells.

This stuff is exciting!  I hope they decide to put a larger one up after the two year test.

apresher
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NASA Direction
apresher   2/20/2013 3:36:07 PM
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Interesting report.  It does seem that the story beneath the story is the changing priorities and goals of NASA.  Will be interesting going forward to see what types of space projects come forward.  Thanks.

Elizabeth M
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Re: NASA Direction
Elizabeth M   2/21/2013 9:39:30 AM
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Yes, apresher, it will be interesting to see how commercialization will affect NASA. Will commercial interests influence the space agency's decisions, or can it continue to act with merely government authority to contend with? I can't imagine how it won't be affected by private interests, but that could be a good thing as business investment could allow the agency to attain bigger and better things. I suppose we will see!

robatnorcross
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Re: NASA Direction
robatnorcross   2/21/2013 4:12:53 PM
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I guess I'm just getting too old but did I see the word "start-up" in Bigelow's wiki? I'm wondering who Robert Bigelow "contributed" to.

My question is (since this is a human habitat) If this were an airplane made by a "start-up" how many of the readers would be willing to try it out. As we've seen recently even a prestigious name like Boeing can have "unpredicitable" growing pains with a new idea and they (Boeing) know quite a bit about airplanes.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: NASA Direction
Ann R. Thryft   2/22/2013 4:18:25 PM
robatnorcross, it depends on who's in the startup and what kind of previous experience they have. Bigelow's website says it launched orbiting spacecraft prototypes in 2006 and 2007. So here, startup seems to mean self-funded rather than "new to the technology." And I don't think the analogy holds with Boeing's battery problems. Boeing knows a ton about aircraft and apparently nothing about lithium-ion batteries, a very new technology. Whereas NASA knows a ton about spacecraft and also a lot about non-metallic materials for those craft, neither of which are new technologies (see links at the end of this story). Plus it's used this material in other spacecraft.

Cabe Atwell
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Re: NASA Direction
Cabe Atwell   7/31/2013 7:24:37 PM
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Didn't Bigelow Aerospace look to SpaceX to get the inflatable modules to the ISS or do they have their own launch platform?

Ann R. Thryft
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What material is it?
Ann R. Thryft   2/20/2013 8:43:07 PM
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Elizabeth, you say BEAM is made of non-metallic material--what material? Composites of some kind?

Elizabeth M
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Re: What material is it?
Elizabeth M   2/21/2013 5:14:11 AM
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The material is called vectran, Ann--they were kind of vague about it when I wrote the story but more info has come out now. It's like kevlar but I think even stronger. Here is a wikipedia page about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vectran

It's made froma liquid crystal polymer and was created by Celanese Acetate LLC. Kuraray Co. manufactures it.

a.saji
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Re: What material is it?
a.saji   2/21/2013 9:15:17 AM
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@ Elizabeth:

I think NASA has made the right move here. They have taken a bold decision in investing on technology which will benefit them in the long run. Many might think its stupid to invest such a big amount for space technology but trust me it can do wonders and NASA will be able to predict more on planets and movements on a regular basis.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: What material is it?
Ann R. Thryft   2/21/2013 12:22:36 PM
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Thanks, Elizabeth. According to that Wikipedia article, the fibers are used for the matrix in some composites, and NASA has already used this material in other space projects, including some Mars landing craft airbags.

 

Elizabeth M
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Re: What material is it?
Elizabeth M   2/22/2013 5:55:01 AM
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Glad to help, Ann. It also educated me a lot on the material, which I was not familiar with. It seems quite durable and practical...I suppose NASA will see how it works in space and its prospect for future uses.

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