SpaceX And Bigelow Join Forces, Paving The Way For Inflatable Space Stations


Having already passed seven out of the ten checks required by NASA before its seven-person Dragon cargo ship is deemed safe for ferrying human cargo to and from outer orbit, SpaceX has now signed a deal with private spaceflight firm Bigelow Aerospace to take its BA 330 inflatable modules into space in the near future.

The hope is that the inflatable habitats – designed to be able to accommodate around six astronauts in relative comfort, and according to the firm are a safer environment than even the International Space Station – would be linked together to form commercial space real-estate, with Bigelow expected to lease out space to businesses and scientists who would use the environments for orbital experiments. To our chagrin, it seems the firm has all but ditched the idea of ‘space hotels’ – hopes of a bargain-basement deal to space through is for now a distant dream, shame.

The BA 330 is just the latest design from the company, having already launched two test modules, Genesis I and II, in 2006 and 2007. The success of the aforementioned has certainly given added hope to the BA 330 mission; Genesis II remained airtight and environmentally controlled for two and a half years, five times longer than the firm had initially expected. Comparatively, BA 330 is three times larger than the Genesis II and offers 330 square metres of space when fully inflated (the idea of ‘inflating’ space habitats like a balloon blows my mind), and uses walls of eight layers of materials to offer better defence for its occupants, full radiation protection and better micrometeorite safety.

But until now and then, SpaceX’s immediate future rests on the pencilled-in date of May 19, in which the ‘SpaceX-ISS’ – the first privately-funded spaceflight to the International Space Station – mission gets underway. If successful, it will help cement a $1.6 billion contract with NASA for a further 12 flights to the ISS to compensate for the withdrawal in funding for the US’s space program. Three days and counting...

Richard Birkett

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