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NASA Awards Contract To Bigelow Aerospace For Inflatable ISS Module

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the spare-room dept.

ISS 132

cylonlover writes "NASA has announced that it has awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide the International Space Station with an inflatable module. Details of the award will be discussed by NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and Bigelow Aerospace President Robert Bigelow at a press conference on January 16 at the Bigelow Aerospace facilities in North Las Vegas. However, based on previous talks, it's likely that the module in question could be the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM)."

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Begelow? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581095)

Manwhore Enterprises?

Re:Begelow? (3, Funny)

gabereiser (1662967) | about 2 years ago | (#42581471)

I thought the same thing when I first glaced at the article... I thought to myself, Deuce Bigelow, Male Gigolo, In Space.... eeewwwwwww.

uuh (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581099)

what could possibly go wrong

Re:uuh (5, Insightful)

radiumsoup (741987) | about 2 years ago | (#42581131)

they've had an inflatable module on orbit for something like 4 years - it's pretty well proven, and much cheaper to put into orbit than fixed-side vehicles. (And as for the idea that something might pop it, if debris is going to poke a hole in a vehicle at *orbital speeds*, it's going to go through kevlar just as easy as it's going to go through the metal the existing space station components are made of.)

Re:uuh (5, Interesting)

GreenTech11 (1471589) | about 2 years ago | (#42581267)

I don't doubt the science behind the concept, and your point about debris being able to puncture the exterior no matter what is a good one. I'm curious about the potential psychological impact of the module. Even if it's completely irrational (and the FA says non-rigid exteriors are better able to withstand a micrometeor), I can't help but feel that if I was up in the ISS, I'd want a solid metal wall, rather than an inflatable fabric one.

Having said that, being able to more than double the size, and presumably living space, of the ISS would probably do a great deal of good psychologically. Not to mention the fact that people who choose to go on missions to the ISS must have a certain amount of crazy to begin with, so probably wont care in the same way an ordinary mortal such as myself would.

The next question of course is how to get it up there? It's about 10x more than the maximum payload of either the Dragon or Soyuz rockets...

Re:uuh (2)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#42581371)

I'm curious about the potential psychological impact of the module

You went off on a materials science tangent, I'm gonna go on the impact of "lets put him in the rubber room" jokes. "I heard the next supply ship has straitjackets". I suppose latex pr0n jokes too.

Re:uuh (2)

dpilot (134227) | about 2 years ago | (#42582481)

psychology....

Have you seen any of the videos sent back from the ISS? From what the videos show, that thing is basically a maze of tunnels. There are a few (tiny) "rooms" off to the side, the cupola being the most notable and most different. (and biggest?) What's the long-term psychological impact of living in a "warren", and how great would the benefit be of having some real rooms?

you get to use 100% of volume in micro-gravity (1)

peter303 (12292) | about 2 years ago | (#42582963)

On earth 6 foot ceiling is not all that much different than a 20-foot ceiling, because you arent going to use much of that space above 6 feet. But in micro-gravity you any of the six walls becomes a floor, thereby allowing you to use the entire volume. Less claustophobic in that case.

Re:you get to use 100% of volume in micro-gravity (3, Insightful)

dpilot (134227) | about 2 years ago | (#42583417)

As one who happens to be 6'4", I'll say that on Earth a 6 foot ceiling is very different from a 20 foot ceiling. I'm not normally claustrophobic, but every now and then I just like to have some space around me. Skylab was interesting, in that respect, including the open framework floors.

Never having been in microgravity I can't tell how I'd respond, if being in a space 6'x6'x tens of feet would be sufficient for me, when I'm capable of moving in any of those dimensions.

Re:uuh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42582857)

There is nothing currently flying that has the payload capacity for this:

Delta IV Heavy can do about 23,000 kg
Arianne 5 can do about 21,000 kg
Shuttle's cargo capacity was around 24,000 kg, so it would have been useless too.

The planned Falcon Heavy is only for 55,000 kg or so, so still short.
The planned NASA space launch system calls for this type of capability.

Anyone got a spare Saturn V? That'll do it.

Re:uuh (1)

Golddess (1361003) | about 2 years ago | (#42583027)

I can't help but feel that if I was up in the ISS, I'd want a solid metal wall, rather than an inflatable fabric one.

Agreed, though my (irrational) reasoning regards putting a sealed, pressurized object into a vacuum. Can it be done? Of course! Would I feel just as nervous about being in a space suit? While I cannot say for certain, I do not think so. But for some reason, thinking about being inside a balloon that isn't human-shaped leaves me feeling a little uneasy.

Re:uuh (2)

Firethorn (177587) | about 2 years ago | (#42583203)

People live in tents with little problem, and the walls of these modules are rather high tech no matter what. Plus, when you fill it up to something resembling sea level(14.7 psi), you're going to have a structure that's about as stiff as the thin aluminum walls of a solid structure. They're almost certainly stronger - we have much better tensile strength materials than flexural strength. A big tube of aluminum will end up flexing on it's own, probably more than the inflated module.

For a real world example, many car tires are only inflated to 30 psi. So consider how stiff that tire is at less than 10% more than the difference between vacuum and the module. Pay attention to the thinner wall - not the tread, of course.

How to get it up (1)

Su27K (652607) | about 2 years ago | (#42583413)

It won't be like Bigelow BA 2100, they're looking for an ISS module, not another ISS. Other sources say the module will only be about 1 ton.

Re:uuh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42584553)

"I can't help but feel that if I was up in the ISS, I'd want a solid metal wall, rather than an inflatable fabric one."

I can't speak for any astronauts that might encounter this, but if it was me I would prefer the walls that are around 6" thick rather than a steel can that is 1/4 inch thick.

Good grief (1)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | about 2 years ago | (#42584667)

These people ride rockets tinto orbit at 17,000 mph and come back in something which burns itself up to save their skins, all dependent on incredibly precise control, and you think they would waste any brain power to worry about the module popping from decompression?

Astronauts are probably the most anal-lytic of all adventurers, calculating everything to a fare-thee-well, practicing their missions for years in swim tanks to get every last detail down pat. The last thing they are going to do is become emotional about such an easily proved design.

Re:uuh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581321)

And as for the idea that something might pop it, if debris is going to poke a hole in a vehicle at *orbital speeds*, it's going to go through kevlar just as easy as it's going to go through the metal the existing space station components are made of.

True, as far as poking goes, and microscopic holes are not cause of immediate catastrophic failure, but there are still differences in how different type materials perform. Debris particle tangentially scratching the surface of a module might rip inflatable one wide open.

Re:uuh (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42581435)

There are lots of layers to avoid that.

Re:uuh (2)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | about 2 years ago | (#42581615)

Famous last words.....

Re:uuh (4, Informative)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42581657)

Who said these famous last words?

This structure is more resistant to micrometeorite impacts than the other ISS modules. The penetrate less and are made of well known materials. These are fabrics designed for their rip resistance, because of that they are used in ropes, rigging for ships and gunshot/stab resistant vests.

One of these units has already been in space for years for testing purposes.

Who? White Star Line? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581883)

I believe it was the White Star Line.

Re:Who? White Star Line? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42582021)

They did not have lots of layers.
They had many compartments, which do not address a large continuous tear.

Good effort though.

Re:uuh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42583395)

It's also likely they'll have stop-leak infused between the layers of the structural fabric laminate. So you don't have to worry too much if something small does manage to poke a hole in it. Self sealing tech has been around for quite a while anyways, so there's not much reason why it shouldn't work in this particular application.

Re:uuh (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581761)

That's what she said!

(and now I have twins... Awe, who am I kidding, I'm reading and posting on slashdot)

Re:uuh (1)

hackertourist (2202674) | about 2 years ago | (#42581737)

ISS modules are protected by aluminium shields. The meteorite will hit this shield, punch through it but disintegrate in the process so it won't penetrate the module wall. They could flat-pack a set of shields alongside the inflatable module for launch.

Re:uuh (2)

Teancum (67324) | about 2 years ago | (#42581943)

The analogy to flat-pack furniture is spot on with what is happening here. This isn't just something that you "add water and watch it grow", it will be taking some assembly once the whole things is put up into orbit and in fact a sort of "flat-pack" system simply to squeeze everything into the payload faring. The main advantage of this style of module is that it ultimately has a whole bunch more volume, so station design can be more compact rather than having everything much more spread out.... as is the case with the rest of the ISS modules. There will be many service flights to simply put things into this module.... and they will be able to add other stuff on the outside.

You sort of miss the point though that the shielding is already part of the design of this system. The only difference is that it uses a fabric shielding rather than something metalic..... so why would the astronauts need to add more? If it becomes a problem, it can be repaired.

Re:uuh (5, Insightful)

slim (1652) | about 2 years ago | (#42581153)

If you're thinking about the fragility of flexible walls, Wikipedia says [wikipedia.org] :

Bigelow Aerospace anticipates that its inflatable modules will be more durable than rigid modules.[13] This is partially due to the company's use of several layers of vectran, a material twice as strong as kevlar, and also because, in theory, flexible walls should be able to sustain micrometeoroid impacts better than rigid walls. In ground-based testing, micrometeoroids capable of puncturing standard ISS module materials penetrated only about half-way through the Bigelow skin. Operations director Mike Gold commented that Bigelow modules also wouldn't suffer from the same local shattering problems likely with metallic modules. This could provide as much as 24 hours to remedy punctures in comparison to the more serious results of standard ISS skin micrometeoroid damage.

I'm curious about pressure though. In the vacuum of space, if it's inflated to human-habitable pressures, won't the pressure difference between inside and outside put an enormous strain on the fabric?

Re:uuh (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581223)

Won't be more than 15 PSI.

Which isn't that high - not even as high as a tire (35-40 PSI)

Re:uuh (1)

slim (1652) | about 2 years ago | (#42581301)

Mm, but a tyre has 15 PSI (1 standard atmosphere) on the outside to counteract the 35 PSI on the inside.

This'll have 15 PSI on the inside, close to zero on the outside.

But I guess (can anyone confirm) that the strain on the skin is proportional to internal pressure minus external pressure, so I take your point that we're not talking massive numbers here.

PSI Re:uuh (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581363)

Won't be more than 15 PSI. Which isn't that high - not even as high as a tire (35-40 PSI)

Mm, but a tyre has 15 PSI (1 standard atmosphere) on the outside to counteract the 35 PSI on the inside.

Tire pressure measurements are relative, not absolute. So "35-40" PSI tire pressure means 35-40 PSI higher than atmospheric pressure

Re:PSI Re:uuh (1)

slim (1652) | about 2 years ago | (#42581407)

Did not know that, but it makes sense now that you point it out - how would a tyre pressure gauge measure absolute pressure?

Thanks.

Re:PSI Re:uuh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581933)

By containing little compartment at vacuum.... which they don't.

But I still want one. :)

Re:PSI Re:uuh (2)

Teancum (67324) | about 2 years ago | (#42582293)

Simple..... put the pressure gauge in a vacuum or use a pretty hard vacuum for comparison.

That is pretty much what would need to be done in a laboratory setting anyway.

For spacecraft, it really isn't that big of a deal compared to submarines, that need to be dealing with substantially larger pressure differences even if they go down just a couple hundred feet. Also, in a submarine they are worried about being crushed and need all sorts of structural support to keep that crushing from happening as opposed to a spacecraft that merely needs to hold together and not go flying off into a thousand pieces.

Even simpler PSI gauge (1)

Firethorn (177587) | about 2 years ago | (#42583353)

Given how cheaply most gauges are built, I'd simply say 'put the gauge markings assuming that the outside is at 14.7 PSI, sea level'.

But them being relative makes sense. You'd fill your vehicle up in Denver(mile high city) with a little less absolute pressure than in Florida, but that wouldn't matter much as there would be less air pressure trying to collapse them.

Also, if a rubber tire can withstand 90+ PSI*, I have no problems believing that an advanced hybrid using fibers tougher than kevlar can hold 14.7 PSI without problem.

*Going by explode point, not daily use, though I know of rubber tires

Re:Even simpler PSI gauge (2)

Teancum (67324) | about 2 years ago | (#42584591)

I've seen bicycle tires that have 90+ PSI with no problem and I have some automobile on my car (admittedly non-standard) that have a normal pressure rating of 70 PSI that were even able to maintain that pressure with "foreign objects" inside of the tire for a prolonged period of time (long enough to get it repaired without even changing the tire and just "filling up" the tire with air before driving a dozen miles to the tire store).

Re:uuh (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 2 years ago | (#42581629)

Mm, but a tyre has 15 PSI (1 standard atmosphere) on the outside to counteract the 35 PSI on the inside.

This'll have 15 PSI on the inside, close to zero on the outside.

Accepting your numbers as valid (they aren't - the 35 psi in your tires is relative to atmospheric pressure, not absolute), that means a pressure differential on this module of 15 psi, as opposed to the 20 psi pressure differential on the tire.

Do you see a lot of tires exploding due to the pressure differential where you live?

Pressure and explosion (1)

Firethorn (177587) | about 2 years ago | (#42583809)

I was looking around, it turns out that the inflatables produced by Bigelow have a 15 cm thick skin, and while I'm not finding any source, I seem to remember them inflating one up to 50+ PSI on the ground as part of some test and not having a problem.

Re:uuh (1)

slinches (1540051) | about 2 years ago | (#42582879)

But I guess (can anyone confirm) that the strain on the skin is proportional to internal pressure minus external pressure

Yes, strain and load are proportional to the pressure (force = pressure * area). The difficulty comes in due to the area being proportional to the square of the radius. This is why tires can handle 35-65 psi and scuba tanks are able to hold 3000 psi while commercial aircraft can be damaged by the relatively small (~8-9psi) cabin pressures. Aloha Airlines Flight 243 is one example and there are several more [wikipedia.org] here. [wikipedia.org]

The loads the skin of these Bigelow Aerospace modules must carry are very large and it isn't a trivial engineering problem to make something that is strong enough to handle the pressure but light enough to launch into space.

Assuming 14psi, the axial pressure loads in the two larger BA modules are:
BA330, 22ft diameter - 760,000 lbs
BA2100, 41ft diameter - 2.7 million lbs

Pressure works different than that (1)

Firethorn (177587) | about 2 years ago | (#42583851)

You're right, total pressure depends on the surface area, but when it comes to containing gas pressure, size matters less than you think.

You could make an aircraft that could hold the pressure of a scuba tank; but it'd be too heavy. A scuba tank is a LOT heavier for the surface area than a plane, and a plane needs to withstand many different stresses than the tank.

If you're making a tank, small or large the gauge of steel needed for the pressure remains about the same for the given pressure. Larger tanks will need more support to withstand the stress of gravity - which isn't perfectly proportional, but that's not a problem in space.

Re:uuh (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | about 2 years ago | (#42581283)

From Wiki. "The atmosphere on board the ISS is similar to the Earth's.Normal air pressure on the ISS is 101.3 kPa (14.7 psi);[139] the same as at sea level on Earth." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Space_Station [wikipedia.org]
Should be fine. Not too sure if would be ok 5-10m below sea; but it would really have gone wrong before that. So they may not build in any crushing force resistance at all.

Re:uuh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581285)

Not Really. The atmospheric pressure is ~14psi. Duplicating it on the ground just blow somthing up a baloon to 28psi. Still relatively low pressure.

Someone please correct me, it I totally screwed that up.

Re:uuh (1)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#42581305)

yeah that would be 28 psi absolute, or 14 psi gauge. Unless you were testing it about 30 ft under water, which would probably be a great idea for leak detection.

Re:uuh (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 2 years ago | (#42582425)

yeah that would be 28 psi absolute, or 14 psi gauge. Unless you were testing it about 30 ft under water, which would probably be a great idea for leak detection.

Which is one of the reasons why Bigelow Aerospace has one of the largest swimming pools in Las Vegas (and that is saying a whole lot by itself). They intend to do not only underwater testing of these modules (or at least the design) before it goes up, but even provide an opportunity for astronauts to get up close and used to servicing the vehicle here on the Earth in a "neutral buoyancy simulator" (using scuba tanks to simulate EVAs).

Re:uuh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42583191)

No, you blow it up to 14 PSI. They blow it up much higher pressure for leak tests because the fabric can take A LOT more than 1 atmosphere.

Learn how your pressure gauge works. Why do you should check your tire pressure when you go from ground level up into the high mountains (or vice-versa)? Pressure is *ALWAYS* relative, and not just absolute but partial pressure. Partial pressure is why you can breathe.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partial_pressure [wikipedia.org]

Re:uuh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581335)

Why would it be high pressure?

as below,,.. 15 PSI probably at most, It could be a lot less though, decrease the oxygen ppm by half and it can be 7 PSI, the pressure is not so important as maintaining the oxygen PPM as far as humans are concerned.

Re:uuh (2, Informative)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#42581421)

It could be a lot less though, decrease the oxygen ppm by half and it can be 7 PSI, the pressure is not so important as maintaining the oxygen PPM as far as humans are concerned.

See apollo 1 fire. In orbit a 4 psi ppO2 fire is just a 4 psi ppO2 fire, doesn't matter much. But on the ground they like to pump that dude up to 4 psi over ambient to test for leaks before launch, especially hatch leaks. So you traditionally end up in 20 psi ppO2 and the slightest spark and "woosh" which is pretty much a summary of how everyone got killed in Apollo 1. Now sea level air means you have a ppO2 regulator so you leak test by pumping up to 20 psi absolute, of which most of the extra pressure will be mostly harmless N2.

Re:uuh (2)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 2 years ago | (#42581343)

I'm curious about pressure though. In the vacuum of space, if it's inflated to human-habitable pressures, won't the pressure difference between inside and outside put an enormous strain on the fabric?

Note that the Genesis testbeds have been in orbit for years with no problems.

Admittedly, Genesis was only inflated to 10 psi or so, and the ISS is pressurized to 14.7psi. But 14.7 psi is, presumably, well within the design specs of the module, since it was originally designed to handle a standard atmosphere of internal pressure.

Re:uuh (2)

artfulshrapnel (1893096) | about 2 years ago | (#42581559)

As others said, the difference between earth pressure and space pressure really isn't that great. 15 PSI differential is about the same as your car tires, and there are inflatable boats in current use that sustain even more. Pressurized diving suits regularly sustain pressure many dozens of times greater than this.

To (likely mis)quote Futurama:
"We're going deep under the ocean, being subjected to thousands of atmospheres of pressure!"
"How much can the ship handle?"
"Well given that it's a spaceship, anywhere from zero to one."

Re:uuh (1)

Golddess (1361003) | about 2 years ago | (#42583719)

I think the problem is that some people (myself included) thought that the proper way to compare it is interior pressure / exterior pressure. But from the comments, it sounds like interior pressure - exterior pressure is the correct way.

Re:uuh (2)

fatphil (181876) | about 2 years ago | (#42581845)

These fabrics are designed specifically to have good strain resistance under tension (which is how they'd be inflated in the near vaccum of space). It's hitting their design sweet spot.

Re:uuh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581177)

what could possibly go wrong

Plenty. It's when they get it up there and suddenly remember there's no air in space.

Alternatively, they could fill it with helium and float it up, but without a decent puncture repair kit one false move and it's a mars orbit in moments!

Re:uuh (0)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#42581349)

Nobody else mentioned vibration and oscillation? Not a huge problem if you're using as a passive warehouse but giant fans blowing life support air are going to make the thing kinda floppy all the time.

I think this would be an interesting science experiment, both the biology of "is a space sickness adjusted human vulnerable to wobbly walls" and the science experiment of repetitive strain failure modes of flex materials (the skin doesn't bend twice, once when made and once when inflated in space, it bends at say 1 Hz continuous while deployed if the structure wobbles. Also the economic experiment where if you have to go to expensive effort for vibration proof motors and all, vs the cost of just boosting a heavier traditional tin can.

There are also interesting impact and torque issues. So if you shove the middle of a wall with your shoulder (or worse) can it snap off an airlock 50 feet away, whereas unpressurized tin can would just bend?

Re:uuh (4, Interesting)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 2 years ago | (#42581699)

I think this would be an interesting science experiment, both the biology of "is a space sickness adjusted human vulnerable to wobbly walls" and the science experiment of repetitive strain failure modes of flex materials (the skin doesn't bend twice, once when made and once when inflated in space, it bends at say 1 Hz continuous while deployed if the structure wobbles.

As far as the repetitive strain failure goes, there have been two testbeds of the inflatable module in space for five or so years each, neither of which failed that way.

And given the pressure differential involved, I suspect that the walls would seem as rigid as steel - 15cm thick, supported by 14.7psi (yes, I'm mixing measurement systems shamelessly) internal pressure isn't going to allow much room for "wobbly walls"....

Re:uuh (1)

falcon5768 (629591) | about 2 years ago | (#42581691)

Not much as this is proven technology that not only they but NASA was working on in the 60's. The simple fact is at orbital velocities, there is nothing thats really going to stop anything nasty from going through the sides of something, you have little further to look than some of the damage done to the shuttles and Mir by space debris.

SLASHDOT Awards FP to AC for Inflatable Ego (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581105)

First post for Jesus

Keepin it real for Jesus

Aw Yeah! (4, Funny)

p0p0 (1841106) | about 2 years ago | (#42581113)

Bouncy Castle INNNNN SPAAACE!

Re:Aw Yeah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581151)

That's a huge bitch!

Re:Aw Yeah! (2)

prefec2 (875483) | about 2 years ago | (#42581193)

And the best thing. You are inside the castle and not on top of it.

Re:Aw Yeah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581447)

We might as well give our astronauts a Moon Bounce on the ISS. I mean, it's not like they're going to bounce on the actual Moon anytime soon.

I wonder who first thought of it.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581125)

Bigelow got their tech from NASA, because NASA didn't want to pay to move it forward. So, Bigelow makes it usable, NASA buys it back.

Re:I wonder who first thought of it.... (1)

lennier1 (264730) | about 2 years ago | (#42581143)

Not that different from a kind of stupidity that's currently going rampant in the corporate sector.

Re:I wonder who first thought of it.... (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about 2 years ago | (#42581331)

Fixing costs isn't stupidity - it's good business. NASA gets the technology for $17.8 million, per the contract. If the technology costs more than expected to develop, the extra cost probably falls on Bigelow rather than taxpayers. Meanwhile, NASA's management and researchers can focus on other things that may have less commercial application, so they won't be developed without government support.

One of NASA's goals is to ensure that space technology continues to advance. It's not required to do all the work itself.

Re:I wonder who first thought of it.... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42581365)

Is this really a fixed cost contract?

It seems everyday you hear about government spending more and more for over runs and other bullshit some company is ripping them off for.

Re:I wonder who first thought of it.... (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about 2 years ago | (#42582507)

I lack the ambition to actually verify this one, but my experience with government contracts is that the vast majority are fixed-cost, same as any normal business transaction. Those that aren't usually have some percentage of additional cost applied, so the company will be absorbing most of the cost of overruns. I've yet to personally see a contract that says the government pays 100% for all cost overruns, but I do assume they exist.

Keep in mind that for every event that makes it to the news as a scandal, there's a few million mundane events that go perfectly as they should.

Re:I wonder who first thought of it.... (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 2 years ago | (#42582509)

In this case with Bigelow, yes it is a fixed price contract. Indeed I am wondering a bit about the contract authority because the amount NASA is paying for this module is so miniscule that I'm not even sure it is from appropriations funding. Hell, this amount of $17 million is usually enough to fund just the RFP (request for proposals) for a "paper study" for some future high end project of this scale.

If you want to see some projects to make you turn white, just look at the James Webb Telescope or the SLS (also called "Senate Launch System") where billions are being spent every year for things that will never even make the journey into space. In this case, NASA is getting a completed module for that paltry price of just a few million (not even billion) dollars. It is going to cost more to fly this into space even if they use a low cost provider like SpaceX.

Obama FTW (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42583981)

So to all you Obama haters, let it be known, here is yet another example of how Obama gets things done cheap and well.

Obama is the most fiscally responsible president we've had in decades.

Too bad he is paired up with the worst Congress in our country's history.
(at least the House is).

TransHab (2)

dpilot (134227) | about 2 years ago | (#42582341)

The way I heard it, the TransHab (inflatable module) had some really serious enemies in Congress. That is, enemies to the tune that the NASA budget was written to explicitly forbid any money for TransHab development. So NASA sold what they had to Bigelow, since they were legally forbidden to do anything else with it. (Just checked Wikipedia, and there is at least some level of confirmation for this.)

Bigelow has 2 TransHab-based test articles in orbit. Last I heard, they were planning their own "Space Hotel." I wonder what they'd charge for "Hundred Mile High" certificates, apart from the launch and on-orbit fees.

Interestingly, everything I'd see on TransHab had the floors perpendicular to the axis. The photos in TFA have the floors parallel to the axis.

So where do they (1, Interesting)

rossdee (243626) | about 2 years ago | (#42581147)

So where do they get the air to inflate it?

they'd better have a puncture repair kit too

Re:So where do they (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581183)

They'll get the astronauts to blow it up. Astronauts breath out because they don't need that air.

Re:So where do they (1)

slim (1652) | about 2 years ago | (#42581241)

Absolutely. Anyone who's done a CESA [wikipedia.org] while learning to dive, knows you can basically exhale forever as you go from low to high pressure.

Re:So where do they (1)

slim (1652) | about 2 years ago | (#42581257)

Er, high to low pressure.

Re:So where do they (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581229)

Once attached to the ISS, they will inflate it with astronaut farts.

Re:So where do they (1, Troll)

Jawnn (445279) | about 2 years ago | (#42581415)

So where do they get the air to inflate it?

If the answers to this question is not patently obvious to you, turn in your geek card and hang your head in shame.

Re:So where do they (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 2 years ago | (#42581555)

So where do they get the air to inflate it?

Duh. An astronaut blows it up. Those guys all have good lungs.

Re:So where do they (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | about 2 years ago | (#42581663)

Just fill it with vacuum. There's plenty of it orbiting our planet. Duh.

Re:So where do they (2)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 2 years ago | (#42582201)

So where do they get the air to inflate it?

From a tank of compressed air. (Seriously, how is this even a question?)
 

they'd better have a puncture repair kit too

Presumably they will, but the walls of a module of this type are pretty thick (think car tire, not party balloon), there's multiples layers, and additional micrometeorite and debris shielding on top of that.

Re:So where do they (2)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 2 years ago | (#42582609)

Presumably they will, but the walls of a module of this type are pretty thick (think car tire, not party balloon)

Think six inches, not car tire.

And material stronger than kevlar, not vulcanized rubber.

Re:So where do they (1)

asm2750 (1124425) | about 2 years ago | (#42582593)

They get it from the US congress.

Re:So where do they (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42584115)

Liquid nitrogen/oxygen would be the most space efficient method (~17 ft2), though it might pose some safety/release issues. In all likelihood they would send up a bunch (~20 1'x4') of high pressure carbon fiber cylinders. Its not an issue when you're launching 20,000 kg + anyways

Bigelow? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581211)

You mean Manwhore Enterprise?

WRONG (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 2 years ago | (#42581299)

This is 17 million for the study. More importantly, beam will NOT be 65 tonnes. Heck, we have nothing that can take it up since the days of the saturn V. It is a SMALL closet that will weigh under 7 tonnes.

Re:WRONG (1)

wiggles (30088) | about 2 years ago | (#42581925)

Source for that?

Not that I doubt you, but I'd like to read more...

Re:WRONG (1)

RicktheBrick (588466) | about 2 years ago | (#42582197)

How much return of investment is the world getting from the ISS? Is it even close to the cost of maintaining it? If they did find some huge payoff, what would the rest of the world do, if Russia sent three Russian up there to kick off all non-Russian? The same Russians who probably instigated the problems in Georgia and used that as an excuse to intervene. I am just curious since there must be a reason why they want to expand it. I believe there is only 7 years left so if it takes another 2 years to get it up there, its would be useful for less than 5 years.

Re:WRONG (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 2 years ago | (#42582567)

This announcement [nasa.gov] seems to be pretty clear that the $18 million (give or take with some change) is for the module and not merely a study. Yeah, this is causing my head to scratch too. I would think this amount is just throat clearing for a typical NASA project that would provide a stack of power point presentations suggesting a module in the future, but I don't see anywhere in the announcement that this is for a study but rather for actual flying hardware.

Owing to the fact that I don't know of any launcher that could put anything like an ISS module into space (not even a reusable Falcon 9) for that price, it does seem rather odd. I hope the details of what that money will be used for is discussed at the press conference. If you have another source suggesting this is just a paper study with no flying hardware, I would be interested in seeing that source.

Re:WRONG (1)

Hadlock (143607) | about 2 years ago | (#42583897)

NASA will likely select a launch vehicle down the road and fund it separately. Being the ISS, it's possible that they will split the module cost with international partners, and then fund the rocket from their budget. Or one of many other options. Bigelow doesn't have their own rocket program so it wouldn't make sense to roll the launch vehicle into the same invoice.

Re:WRONG (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42583889)

"More importantly, beam will NOT be 65 tonnes"

That much seems obvious, but where is it being suggested that this will be a "SMALL closet that will weigh under 7 tonnes."? If I had to wager I would say that it will likely be a BA330, or about 330 m3 (ISS is currently 837 M3). Bigelow was already planning to launch such a module, having it attached to ISS would likely be a win/win for them (prestige/incoming funds). While a BA 2100 would have been nice, it would have been difficult for NASA to foot the bill for its construction and launch. Launching a BA 2100 would either require a modified Falcon Heavy, or an SLS flight (assuming they ever make that thing work).

Dr. Schlock, they have your location... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581373)

...Torg's team will be arriving shortly. Suggest you evacuate using the DFA.

Balloon in space? (1)

lapm (750202) | about 2 years ago | (#42581403)

Ok so it might be viable, but somehow i expect them having tons of trouble convince astronauts thats its safe...

Use your heads NASA (1, Funny)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | about 2 years ago | (#42581417)

There is no inflatable product on the market today that does not eventually develop a leak or burst. Air mattresses, tires, dolls...

Re:Use your heads NASA (3, Funny)

Errol backfiring (1280012) | about 2 years ago | (#42581959)

Do you want to talk about it?

Re:Use your heads NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42582043)

It's very different though. Nothing you and I buy started with a CFO in a room with a materials engineer, who was told, "Imagine you have unlimited money, how would you design this?" "Now imagine you had 15 million dollars. What would you change?"

If that had happened at Hasbro, my water wings would still be puffy.

Re:Use your heads NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42582045)

> There is no inflatable product on the market today that does not eventually develop a leak or burst. Air mattresses, tires, dolls...

Why would anyone offer a product that doesnt fail eventually ?
Apparantly there is not enough profit in selling durable products.

Re:Use your heads NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42583789)

I believe tests have shown that inflatable station hulls are MUCH more resilient than standard aluminum hulls. Not only are they thicker, but they are made up of multiple layers of kevlar, Nomex, Combitherm & Mylar which have the effect of breaking up most micrometeorites before they can reach the inner layers. Even if something did breach all of the layers the fix would be pretty simple, cut away the inner layer of Nomex, apply some type of sealing/glue compound and slap down an appropriately sized section of Combitherm.

Congrats Bigelow! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581773)

This is a good step forward, and something that has been a long-time in coming. Good job Bigelow!
Good engineering really should win out, and this stuff really does seem to be just better.

Balloon vulnerability is fixable (2)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about 2 years ago | (#42581829)

Make the balloon a 2-layered affair with a few feet of air space. Then you fill that space with thousands of small floating balloons whose interiors are slightly sticky. Meteorite hits. Small balloons immediately travel to where the air is leaking out, burst, and plug the hole with a bunch of goopy rubber until someone (or some robot) can go outside once a month or so and put on maintenance patches.

Re:Balloon vulnerability is fixable (4, Insightful)

sconeu (64226) | about 2 years ago | (#42582321)

Someone has been reading his Heinlein. Gentlemen, Be Seated [heinleinsociety.org] .

Much better than existing technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42581947)

Bigelow didn't just invent this stuff out of the blue. This technology was originally developed by NASA and was called Transhab. It was tested extensively and has considerable amount of redundancy in the many layers incorporated into the design. In almost all respects it outperforms the rigid modules currently used in the ISS. The only reason that this isn't being used already is because funding for the project was cut and NASA sold the technology to Bigelow. In a way it was a fortuitous thing because now they can get the technology they already wanted, and trust, without the cost of continued development. It has been commoditized (as much as space stuff can be a commodity.)

Not New Technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42582261)

The design is essentially the recycling of old NASA concepts:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TransHab [wikipedia.org]

The multi-layer design is highly effectively again MMOD impacts, better than most of the shielding currently on ISS.

Jumping for jou (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42583673)

I imagine there are some astronauts down the pipeline jumping for joy at the possibility. Skylab was the only station with a decent amount of internal space, and that burnt up 30 years ago. While I doubt this will be one of the larger Bigelow components (BA 2100, 4 DECKS! @65,000 kg) I bet it'll add a significant amount of space to the station. Hopefully they don't have any trouble funding a launch vehicle for it, ~$18 million is chump change for increasing the stations livable area by at least 35%.

Inflatable spaceships? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42583777)

Remember, in space, no one can hear you leak.

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