NASA has spotted an evolution in space engineering that could save money for space exploration if privately developed inflatable space dwelling prove to be successful.
A new agreement between NASA and a Nevadan firm to add a privately built module to the International Space Station could evolve into uses of the innovative technology beyond low-Earth orbit, space agency and company officials said on Wednesday.
NASA’s $17.8 million venture with Bigelow Aerospace to build an inflatable module, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), is planned to be tested at the ISS in 2015.
California-based SpaceX company will help BEAM make it to orbit by providing a Falcon 9 rocket. Once in space, the module will be installed on an open dock of the station's Node 3 by uniting the module using a robotic arm.
The Beam weighs around 1,360 kilograms and is about 4 meters long and 3.2 meters wide.
Bigelow Aerospace has so far spent around $250m to develop inflatable space habitation. It has preliminary agreements with seven non-US space and research agencies in the UK, the Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Sweden and the UAE.
NASA has placed high hopes in private industries to develop ways to take its astronauts to and from the space station. That service is now provided by Russia at a cost of more than $60 million per person.