NASA’s newest space habitat looks sort of like a kids’ moon bounce, a big, shiny, inflatable sphere that could be lots of fun to play in.
Soon astronauts on the International Space Station could get the chance to try. The expandable habitat made by Bigelow Aerospace recently passed NASA’s rigorous certification requirements and is scheduled to be flown to the station in September.
Called the BEAM (and acronym for Bigelow Expandable Activity Module), the habitat would be attached to the space station, where it would stay for two years. While there, it would be tested to see how it handles the rigors of space — the radiation, the station’s movement and even how it stands up to the debris flying around in orbit.
The private Las Vegas company, founded by millionaire real estate mogul Robert Bigelow, won a $17.8 million contract from NASA to provide the module to the space station.
“Today is the first step, but it’s a big step,” said Bigelow’s George Zamka.
Bigelow plans to send bigger inflatable habitats to space, which could replace or augment the space station. It also hopes to build the habitats on the moon. Its B330 module would be even bigger, with 330 cubic meters of internal space. The modules could be connected, creating research facilities, the company says, or even space hotels.
In an interview, NASA’s William Gerstenmaier, said he was eager to see how the module performs, and said he was especially pleased “to see how the private sector can step up and help us meet our requirements.”
The module will be flown to the space station by SpaceX, the first commercial company to resupply the space station.