Tuesday, January 15, 2013

NASA and the inflatable ISS Module

NASA’s latest addition to the ISS is being constructed by Bigelow Aerospace. Why Bigelow? Glad you asked! Bigelow Aerospace has inflatable modules made from vectran fabric. Vectran fabric is the same woven material (spun from a liquid polymer) that was used for the Mars Pathfinder back in 1997, the Mars Exploration Rovers in 2004(that would be the Spirit & Opportunit), has been used through-out for the ‘softgoods’ portion of NASA’s extra-vehicular suit AND is expected to be used again in a Mars Science Lab. In other words, it is trusted for use out in space.

The module they have contracted is likely the BEAM Module (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) that is inflatable and shaped in a donut or Torus shape(pictured above). It is very similar in design to the TransHab (Shown below in a cut-away view), a design concept owned by NASA that had an inflatable shell and yet was a foot thick in many areas and had layers of Kevlar to hold the module’s shape as well as provide strength.

The reason for this interest?

First of all the inflated modules provide a cheaper option without, according to vigorous ground testing, sacrificing safety. The vectran fabric provides greater resistance to micrometeors then rigid modular walls.

Second, with NASA & the people of the Earth looking spaceward, the ISS figures more into the plan. There is a need to understand more of the effect of time in space on the human body. Also it is important to be able to test these different materials under varying circumstance as there are so many things about space we don’t know and graound testing can only do so much!

NASA’s Deputy Admin, Lori Garver as well as Bigelow Aerospace’s President Robet Bigelow will discuss the BEAM program tomorrow – Wednesday January 16th in Las Vegas. Via a teleconference at 2pm.

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