Space technologies company Bigelow Aerospace has announced the signing of a new contract with Nasa, for the future use of its space habitats.
The Nevada-based company has been pioneering the construction and use of inflatable space capsules.
Under this new contract, Nasa will investigate the use of Bigelow Aerospace’s B330 habitat in their future manned missions.
This pressurized habit has 330 cubic meters of liveable space and provides room for up to six astronauts.
“We’re eager to work with Nasa to show how B330s can support historic human spaceflight missions to the Moon and other destinations in cislunar space while still staying within the bounds of the Agency’s existing budget,” said Bigelow Aerospace’s President and founder, Robert T. Bigelow.
“Nasa originally conceived of expandable habitats decades ago to perform beyond LEO missions, and we at Bigelow Aerospace look forward to finally bringing that vision to fruition.”
Nasa is interested in the B330 due to the significant advantages which inflatable habitats hold over traditional designs. Due to their inflatable nature, these designs provide much greater volume than metallic structures, as well as enhanced protection against radiation and physical debris.
Furthermore, Bigelow’s products are much lighter to launch into space, making them significantly more cost-effective than current technologies.
Developing relationship with Nasa
This is not the first time that Nasa has worked with Bigelow Aerospace, but rather represents a developing relationship between the two groups.
A smaller inflatable habitat called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is due to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) in the coming months.
There its performance will be closely monitored over the course of 2 years by astronauts and ground control, in order to prove that this technology is indeed space-worthy.
Should all go to plan, the BEAM could eventually serve as additional pressurized storage space aboard the ISS.
Following this proof of concept, Bigelow plans to launch its first commercial B330 as early as 2017.