US space technology start-up Bigelow Aerospace has released a video showing its inflatable space station module prior to its 2015 launch to the International Space Station.
Founded in 1999 by hotel entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, the company’s goal is to start operating space tourism facilities in the Earth’s orbit – the first space-based hotels.
The company previously build and launched two technology demonstrators – Genesis I and Genesis II in 2006 and 2007 respectively. The currently developed module, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) should be attached to the International Space Station (ISS) next year as part of an experiment by Nasa.
The expandable unit – lightweight and easy to store when deflated – is believed to give some extra space to the astronauts inside the cramped space station.
Bigelow believes the inflatable units have the potential to revolutionise space travel by making it cheaper, saving rocket fuel needed to lift it to orbit, and at the same time enabling building much larger space-born structures.
The modules are made of vectran, a synthetic fibre twice as strong as its better known sibling Kevlar. It is believed the flexible but resilient material could provide better shielding from dangerous cosmic radiation and micrometeorites than currently used rigid space modules.
In ground-based testing, micrometeoroids capable of puncturing standard ISS module materials penetrated only about half-way through the Bigelow skin.
After sending its BEAM module to space, Bigelow will focus on developing a full scale inflatable space station – the 330 cubic metres large BA 330 module. The module would provide comfortable accommodation for a six-strong crew and would serve as a test bed for development of even larger structures.
Watch Bigelow’s video below: