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by Boris Pavlishev
Moscow (Voice of Russia) Jan 21, 2013
The International Space Station's American segment will receive an inflatable module in 2015. NASA has awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM). The contract was signed by the founder of the company Robert Bigelow, owner of the hotel chain Budget Suites of America.
The inflatable module that weighs less than a tonne is scheduled to launch aboard the eighth SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the station by NASA. In orbit, it will take the form of a 4-meter-long-cylinder with a 3-meter-diameter. Such an additional module is a great possibility to expand living space on the station, says Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics Yuri Karash.
"The inflatable module is first and foremost the cosmonauts' habitat. It is quite compact when it is delivered to the orbit where it will acquire the form of a large cylinder.
At present, specialists are planning to use such inflatable habitats not only in orbit but also in the Mars project. The Mars-1 company that suggests sending people to Mars with a "one way ticket" intends to build a settlement on the planet using inflatable modules. Such modules will be needed on the moon. At present, scientists say that inflatable modules assure better radiation and anti-meteorite protection than the classical ones," Yuri Karash said.
The idea of using inflatable modules in space exploration is not a new one. In the 1960s, an inflatable lock chamber was installed on the Voskhod-2 spacecraft where Alexei Leonov made the first ever spacewalk.
Bigelow Aerospace has already put inflated hardware, Genesis-1 and Genesis-2 into space. They were launched onboard Dnepr rockets from a Russian missile base in the Orenburg region in 2006 and 2007 respectively.
Bigelow bought the patent from NASA that developed an experimental TransHab (Transit Habitat) inflatable module for interplanetary flights. But in 2000, the U.S. Congress suspended the programme for financial reasons contrary to the desire of the White House. Now Bigelow will build a module for the ISS using NASA drawings of the TransHab. This is the reason why the price of the contract is not so high.
The contract with Bigelow is a convenient means for NASA to test the effectiveness of its development, says head of the Institute of Space Policy Ivan Moiseev.
"NASA considers ISS a test site where it conducts its experiments. Any promising idea in space including an inflatable module is desirable to develop experimentally. This is aimed at developing new technology," Ivan Moiseev said.
Like Genesis modules, the module for the ISS will be made using gold-coloured vectran, strong multilayer fibre. Bigelow Aerospace is planning to launch a space station on the basis of an inflatable module that will be three times bigger. Practically, this will be a hotel for space tourists that will provide "all-inclusive" services. It will be launched using the Atlas heavy booster in 2-3 years. A tourist will have to pay $29 million for a single spot in orbit for 30 days.
Despite the fact that the flights of Genesis modules are successful, skeptics point to drawbacks in inflatable modules flying in low orbits like the ISS. There is atmosphere but it is very thin. Owing to the large surface of the module, it might reduce the speed of the ISS. As a result, it will have to rise up to a higher orbit more often.
Source: Voice of Russia
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