WASHINGTON, D.C. – NASA has awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to add one of its expandable modules to the International Space Station. The plan is to demonstrate the inflatable modules for future exploration and commercial use, NASA said today.
“The International Space Station is a unique laboratory that enables important discoveries that benefit humanity and vastly increase understanding of how humans can live and work in space for long periods,” NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said. “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 U.S. commercial space innovation.”
Entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, who owns the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, founded his company in 1999 to use new materials as the inflatable shells for working and living places in space. He has launched two such craft — Genesis 1 and Genesis 2— that are still orbiting the Earth. This story from 2012 details why Bigelow believes his technology will not only benefit NASA but lead to private space stations and a base on the moon. He calls what he is developing “next generation commercial space stations.”
The module to be added to the station would be for storage similar to the current Japanese Logistics Platform already attached to the station, according to reports. It would remain on the station for two years. The deal is described as a win-win for NASA and the company with NASA gaining valuable insight into a technology that could figure heavily in future space exploration and Bigelow gaining valuable experience and credibility for his future commercial space plans.
A one-third scale model of a Bigelow commercial space station is on display at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. It was added in 2011 after Bigelow toured the museum. The model is about 10-feet tall and is in two parts – a habitat module and a docking node and propulsion “bus” or system – making it about 30 feet long.
(This story was updated at 4 p.m. CST to add more information and links about Bigelow’s company, its products and the space station plan.)
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