Bigelow Aerospace designs inflatable modules. They’ve been quiet for about five years now, since the 2007 launch of their last, fairly large inflatable module. Which is why I’m excited to see that they will be now moving forward with putting a test module on the ISS. This will allow them to see how a crewed version will fare:

The space agency said Friday that it has signed a $17.8-million contract with Bigelow to provide the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, to the ISS. Few details about the module’s size, capabilities, or launch date have been announced, although more details are expected to be released at a press conference at Bigelow’s Las Vegas facilities on January 16. NASA said that the module will demonstrate the capabilities of expandable habitat technology for future commercial and government applications.

Again, for all the angst about losing space shuttle capacity, it’s been a fairly cool couple years in terms of moving forward in regards to space activity. I think, realizing that they have to move forward is spurring NASA to invest in and poke at some interesting things.

Here’s a rendering of the Genesis II, that they launched into orbit in 2007 and has been up there since:

NewImage

Like many alt-space companies Bigelow has big dreams beyond just the two demo labs they’ve put in space to demonstrate the technology. The ISS module is a big first step toward starting to make money off their technology, and to their eventual near-term dream of offering a second alternative to the ISS.