back to article SpaceX to deliver Bigelow blow-up job to ISS astronauts

Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace has been showing off the latest addition to the International Space Station: an inflatable module that will be used as a lounge and test facility in orbit. Youtube Video The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is a 13ft by 10ft inflatable capsule that will be lofted up to the ISS as part …

  1. Christoph

    Balloon animals anyone? Can they tie it into a Little Green Man?

    1. stucs201
      Joke

      No. look at the picture it's blue and silver, not green.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Meh

      Iterations

      > Can they tie it into a Little Green Man?

      Not yet, but the obvious next step is to add a 'far-end' dock collar, allowing another module attachment, and so on. Add enough modules and the resulting snake could be bent into many festive shapes via external cabling running along the outside of the stack.

      In fact, this bending could be orchestrated to produce the appearance of a real nest of snakes, maybe frightening off future hostile boarders...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Iterations

        With this 'chain-of-modules' architecture approach, combined with a special module having collars on each end and side collars between, it becomes trivial to construct a 3D maze of any proportion. Some bubbles would be built to custom lengths for proper fit. Future hard sections might just be docked to the flexi-tubes rather than the core.

        Further, in the case of disaster it might be possible to close off the section you're in and detach it. Then, using a small compressed air supply you jet to safety.

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Iterations

          Further, in the case of disaster it might be possible to close off the section you're in and detach it. Then, using a small compressed air supply you jet to safety.

          Inside a balloon, in LEO.... where's safety?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Iterations

            In numbers, perhaps?

            Seriously tho, I doubt these bubbles will be capable of safely redocking on their own, so they'll have to head for the nearest robot arm and queue up for docking/rescue.

            1. Gordon 10 Silver badge
              Alien

              Chain of modules

              Are you all mad - its just asking for an infeststion space hamsters

              1. AbelSoul
                Trollface

                Re: infeststion space hamsters

                Or Spamsters, as we like to call them.

              2. Bob Foster

                Re: Chain of modules

                "Are you all mad - its just asking for an infeststion space hamsters"

                And that boys and girls was how Tribbles came into existence

          2. DrMordrid

            Re: Iterations

            The safety is in half a meter of Kevlar and Vectran, materials used in body armor. This tech started out as a NASA expandable habitat named TransHan. It was 2/3 as thick as Bigelow's BA-330 but was able to stop a multiple aluminum projectiles fired at 7 kilometers/second without failing. It also offers much better radiation protection than a metal habitat.

            This tech IS the future of space habitats.

            There's another outfit working on this tech, and they've worked with both Bigelow's and NASA: Thin Red Line Aerospace in Canada. They make the inner restraint layers, as well as expandable propellant tanks and other goodies.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At last I can explain the ISS to my children

    "See that bright light moving above us? It's a bouncy castle in space!"

    (next step, checking C&A for spacesuits in children's sizes, then waiting for a 2-for-1 deal and hoping that they have some decent colours left)

  3. horsham_sparky
    Trollface

    I can't quite see it

    I'm sure there should be a piece of string tied to it somewhere :-) it does look like a childs helium balloon! as long as the astronauts don't start talking like chipmunks..

    1. DropBear
      Trollface

      Re: I can't quite see it

      Hey, you're onto something! How about further reducing costs by having the inflatable module float as high up in the atmosphere as it can on its own, inflated with hydrogen (as a balloon), then when it stops rising higher converting it into a rocket that burns that hydrogen to get into actual orbit... I call dibs on the patent for that!

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: I can't quite see it

        Read bigelow prospectus, this is considered too.

        I am surprised it is so small. It looks tiny compared to whatever it is connected.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: I can't quite see it

          I think it helped me realise just how big the ISS actually is. Views from space don't have much context and the view from inside always seem cramped.

          Yeah, intellectually I know it's the "size of n football fields" but that doesn't really help grasp the physical size of the modules, especially when the "size of n football fields" is just the land area needed to spread out the solar sails

        2. DropBear

          Re: I can't quite see it

          @Voland's right hand: yeah ok, than they're way, way crazier than me - height is one thing, but achieving actual orbital velocity is going to be bloody hard with the realistically puny amount of hydrogen gas they can possibly fit into the "balloon". Not to mention the oxygen they also need to take up there. And if they fill it with all that stuff in _liquid_ form, well... I haven't seen the Space Shuttle floating upwards on its own yet... :)))

  4. Mark 85 Silver badge

    I guess that some of us would look at this and get nervous. The new era of fabrics is upon us but the idea of being in space and floating into a balloon is still scary.... I'd be wondering when it will go "pop".

    Still, this is some amazing equipment and considering the environment it shows how far we've come in materials and design.

    1. oldcoder

      Don't get the idea from "balloon" that it is a thin wall.

      I believe it is similar (if not identical) to what is described at

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BA_330:

      "The wall thickness will be approximately 0.46 metres (18 in) when the module is fully expanded. The walls are made up of 24 to 36 layers for ballistic protection, thermal protection and radiation protection and will be as hard as concrete once the craft is fully expanded."

      I think tests have shown the walls would be better than metal walls for impact protection - since it deforms and bounces back rather than melting on impacts.

      1. Sykobee

        I guess it's more of an inflatable fabric flat pack than a balloon. No wonder it still weighs three tonnes.

        How repairable is it, once something punctures its way halfway into the wall? Duct tape isn't going to suffice really :p I guess you move stuff out of the module and jettison it, and put a fresh module in.

        In ten years time we'll be hearing of nano-manufactured fabrics that can reduce these walls from 18 inches to six.

    2. Esme

      it's safer than metal tin-cans

      If you look into it, you'll find that the testing has proven it's way safer than the 'tin can' components in just about every way possible. If I went up to orbit, I;d rather be in a Bigelow unit once up there than just about anything else.

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    That structures is something like 10 layers thick and *very* tough.

    Keep in mind by deforming (slightly) on impact it absorbs some of that kinetic energy rather than letting it penetrate.

    Such modules can change the whole basis for things like L2 habitats in Lunar orbit, Mars moon exploration or Mars missions in general.

    You get a lot more volume for mass than with a solid wall design.

    1. Dave Bell

      Re: That structures is something like 10 layers thick and *very* tough.

      And they have had a couple in orbit for about 8 years. So now they have one with humans able to use it, and monitor it, and it should last until the USA stops funding the ISS. And it's a big enough space to do some interesting things. It's somewhere just big enough that you can try zero-gravity with no walls within easy reach, and try ways of getting out of that situation. That's something you need to know about before you try a larger one.

    2. cray74

      Re: That structures is something like 10 layers thick and *very* tough.

      "Keep in mind by deforming (slightly) on impact it absorbs some of that kinetic energy rather than letting it penetrate."

      Inflatable habitat walls primarily function like a Whipple Shield: they evaporate hypervelocity debris that penetrates the outer layer, and then allow the resulting fireball to expand to a less harmful, more easily halted state for subsequent layers. A mechanical response like flexing only occurs at the speed of sound in the material, which is far slower than the threat posed by orbital debris.

      http://ares.jsc.nasa.gov/hvit/basic.cfm

  6. DesktopGuy

    Science and quasi-humour

    Am I the only one thinking "Deuce Bigelow - Male Gigilo"

    Rob Schneider at his best - not that that's saying much.

    From a construction perspective, since this is deformable it takes up less space for delivery, but how much weight does it save?

    1. cray74

      Re: Science and quasi-humour

      "From a construction perspective, since this is deformable it takes up less space for delivery, but how much weight does it save?"

      The old Transhab concept offered about 3 times the volume of a metal ISS module of roughly the same mass. However, I don't think the hull of a non-inflatable module is the module's main source of weight - it's all the stuff crammed into it. Getting more elbowroom from a non-inflatable module might be similarly thrifty with mass.

      The way to figure this out would be to compare mass-per-unit area of each module concept. Are the composite materials of the inflatable modules significantly less massive than an equal area of aluminum?

  7. ecofeco Silver badge

    Game changer

    This is going to change everything about building in space.

    Too bad El Reg didn't have a more recent picture of the new structure.

    http://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/bigelow-aerospace-shows-its-expandable-space-station-future-n322521

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