NASA has signed a $17.8 million deal to attach an inflatable private module to the International Space Station (ISS).
NASA will pay the hefty amount to the Nevada-based private spaceflight firm Bigelow Aerospace for the company’s Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which will be affixed to the orbiting lab as a technology demonstration.
“This partnership agreement for the use of expandable habitats represents a step forward in cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably, and heralds important progress in US commercial space innovation,” NASA deputy chief Lori Garver said.
NASA said Mr. Garver and Bigelow founder and president Robert Bigelow will discuss the BEAM programme at a media event on January 16, ‘Space.com’ reported.
BEAM is likely to be similar to Bigelow’s Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 prototypes, which the company launched to orbit in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Both Genesis modules are 4.4 by 2.5 meters, with about 11.5 cubic metre of pressurised volume.
NASA said that BEAM could be on orbit about two years after getting an official go-ahead. The module is likely to be launched by one of the agency’s commercial cargo suppliers, California-based SpaceX or Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp.
The company also intends to launch and link up several of its larger expandable modules to create private space stations, which could be used by a variety of clients.
Tenants could get to orbiting Bigelow habitats in several different ways. The company has set up a partnership with SpaceX for use of its Dragon spacecraft and another one with Boeing, to use the aerospace giant’s CST-100 capsule.
Bigelow is also eyeing a possible outpost on the moon, for which the company envisions using its BA-330 modules. Several BA-330 habitats, along with propulsion tanks and power units, would be joined together in space and then flown down to the lunar surface.
This is not the first time NASA has teamed up with a commercial spaceflight company for work on the ISS.