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A photograph of a full-size mock up of the expanded BA 330 module on the ground at Bigelow Aerospace's North Las Vegas plant, to give an impression of its size.

The BA 330 (previously known as the Nautilus space complex module) is the complete, full-scale production model of Bigelow Aerospace's expandable space habitation module program. Ultimately, it is more of a model of space habitation module and not one specific craft as Robert Bigelow, owner and founder of Bigelow Aerospace, intends on building several of the modules for sale at a tentative asking price of US$100 million each. It will have 330 cubic meters of internal space; hence the name BA 330 - Bigelow Aerospace 330 (cubic meters).

Slated for first launch in 2012, the craft will support zero-gravity research including scientific missions and manufacturing processes. Beyond its industrial and scientific purposes, however, it has the potential as a port of call for space tourism.

Other uses for the craft include missions destined for the Moon and Mars and even space yachts.

Contents

Beneficial features

A number of features make this form of space station particularly well-suited for its purpose.

  1. It offers a large habitable space for crews to live and conduct experiments in. The exterior of the craft is intended to be 45 feet (13.7 m) long by 22 feet (6.7 m) in diameter.
  2. It is relatively light for its size, at only 50,000 lb (23,000 kg), making it easier to place modules in orbit, without having to resort to heavy-lift launch vehicles.
  3. Its skin, made of high-strength textiles and Vectran-like materials, is wrapped with several layers of high-tension straps. It is particularly resistant to damage from micrometeorites and debris.

The module's large size is particularly beneficial for lunar astronauts or the crews of other long-duration space missions, which until now have been restricted to fairly cramped quarters for the several-day flight. The associated risks of remaining in one confined space for too long, such as cabin fever are reduced, and the psychological well-being of the crew is potentially enhanced in a more general manner by being able to move around with a greater degree of freedom. This would be particularly valuable if the enhanced volume of the module permitted a small amount of private space for individuals, as this feature is known to be beneficial on long duration missions.

The 330 will be composed of three levels/floors.

  • Level 1: A kitchen featuring a table for 12, fridge freezer, microwave, water dispenser and extra room for personal luggage items.
  • Level 2: Six individual rooms. Mechanical room dealing with environental control, life support, power, avionics and return airflow.
  • Level 3: Crew health is handled here. Treadmill and excercise bike, medical equipment and room for personal luggage items.


It is incorrect to equate it with an air-filled balloon floating in space. Rather, when expanded the outer shell is as hard to the touch as concrete,[1] the redundancy of the multiple (10+) layers of the bladder tends to rapidly distribute the impact energy of very low-mass high-speed impactors through the layers. A regular aluminium space station module negates an impact with Kevlar armor or other absorptive material, which is marginally more likely to suffer a catastrophic puncture in the event of an impact.

Technology

Image of an advanced embodiment of the Nautilus Module, in the form of the Nautilus Lunar Cruiser, a vehicle designed for longer-duration cislunar flight

While little is known about how Bigelow is evolving the purchased Transhab technology, NASA states the following about the structure of the module that Bigelow adopted as a starting point:

With almost two dozen layers, TransHab’s foot-thick inflatable shell is a marvel of innovative design. The layers are fashioned to break up particles of space debris and tiny meteorites that may hit the shell with a speed seven times as fast as a bullet. The outer layers protect multiple inner bladders, made of a material that holds in the module’s air. The shell also provides insulation from temperatures in space that can range from plus 121 degrees Celsius (plus 250 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Sun to minus 128 degrees Celsius (minus 200 degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade.

The key to the debris protection is successive layers of Nextel, a material commonly used as insulation under the hoods of many cars, spaced between several-inches-thick layers of open cell foam, similar to foam used for chair cushions on Earth. The Nextel and foam layers cause a particle to shatter as it hits, losing more and more of its energy as it penetrates deeper.

Many layers into the shell is a layer of super-strong woven Kevlar that holds the module’s shape. The air is held inside by three bladders of Combitherm[2], material commonly used in the food-packing industry. The innermost layer, forming the inside wall of the module, is Nomex cloth, a fireproof material that also protects the bladder from scuffs and scratches.[3]

Bigelow has described their technology to news media[4] and have indicated that their proprietary technology inflatable shell, now in validation test in low-earth orbit in two subscale spacecraft, incorporates a layer of Vectran, along with the Kevlar etc. of the NASA technology.[5]

Further Enhancements

The CSS Skywalker, a future multi-module space station, composed of many BA 330 modules and other elements.

Bigelow Aerospace intends in principle to develop the BA 330 module to a point where on-orbit mating with other spacecraft can be conducted. In current illustrations, this is shown as being with the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, but it could theoretically be with any number of other vehicles.

Once assembled, the combined vehicle would offer the benefits of enhanced operating space for the crew, along with the traditional necessities of the 'hard' spacecraft docked to it, such as atmospheric re-entry.

Bigelow Aerospace also intends to develop the CSS Skywalker, a space station based upon using BA 330 modules to act as an orbital hotel.[6]

History

The BA 330 is the brainchild of Robert Bigelow of Budget Suites of America. Its design is based on the cancelled NASA Transhab program. Bigelow gained access to Transhab engineers and workmen, a few of whom now largely advise Bigelow's project.[7][8]

Notes

  1. ^ Rogers, Keith (2006-07-23). "Week in Review: Reporters Notebook". Las Vegas Review-Journal. http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2006/Jul-23-Sun-2006/news/8576221.html. Retrieved 2007-06-01.  
  2. ^ DuPont, Surlyn-resin, Combitherm-film case study
  3. ^ "TransHab Concept". National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA.gov). 2003-06-27. http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/history/station/transhab/. Retrieved 2007-06-01.  
  4. ^ Putting Up the Ritz: Can pneumatic buildings breathe life into space tourism?, James Oberg, IEEE Spectrum, Feb 2007.
  5. ^ Inflatable space module puffs up, Jonathan Fildes, BBC News, 14 Jul 2006
  6. ^ The Five-Billion-Star Hotel, 1 Mar 2005
  7. ^ Schrimpsher, Dan (2006-08-21). "Interview: TransHab developer William Schneider". TheSpaceReview.com. http://www.thespacereview.com/article/686/1. Retrieved 2009-10-03.  
  8. ^ An Interview with Constance Adams: Architect for the TransHab Inflatable Space Station Module, 30 May 2003

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