ASK OCE — July 20, 2006 — Vol. 1, Issue 10
A View From Outside
Bigelow Launches Inflatable Space Module
A Russian Dnepr rocket carried Genesis I, a 3,000-pound expandable space module prototype, into orbit from the ISC Kosmotras launch complex in Russia on July 12, 2006.
, manufactured by Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace
, is a space module with a flexible outer skin that inflated once it reached its orbit 300 miles above Earth.
Its mission will last for several years and involve observations of the ship's performance, including testing of packing and deployment procedures as well as its resistance to radiation and small space debris strikes. Genesis I left the ground approximately 15 feet in length and 6.2 feet in diameter. Once in orbit, it expanded to twice that diameter. Bigelow Aerospace envisions its future inflatable space modules housing astronauts and eventually space tourists.
Expected uses for Bigelow Aerospace's expandable modules include microgravity research, materials research, and space manufacturing. Other potential uses include space tourism, such as modules for orbital hotels and space transportation.
Originally, expandable space modules were proposed and designed by NASA under the TransHab program. The TransHab inflatable module was a concept proposed as a crew quarters for the International Space Station. After the Agency cancelled the TransHab program, Bigelow Aerospace acquired the rights to commercialize several of NASA's key expandable module technologies.
Inflatable modules are considered to be as durable as rigid modules found on the International Space Station. They are designed to withstand strikes from microasteroids and other floating space debris. Their exterior strength is partially due to their use of several layers of Vectran, a material nearly twice as strong as Kevlar.