NASA is not what it used to be, when names like Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin proclaimed the space agency the best in the globe. These days, however, other countries such as Russia, China and organizations such as the European Space Agency are making greater efforts than the U.S. in space. The funding the agency receives is being used to award contracts to private companies. The latest grant the agency gave was to Bigelow Aerospace based in Las Vegas, Nevada for its expandable module for the International Space Station.
Contracting some of the functions is not a bad thing for NASA, because as we all know government agencies can sometimes be inefficient. The company it chose is known for building quality equipment that is inexpensive. It has been working on the expandable or inflatable space station module since 1998 and the company put its first prototype module in orbit in 2006 and 2007.
Although it is yet not confirmed, it is believed the Bigelow module will be hitching a ride inside of the SpaceX (News - Alert) Dragon, another privately made spacecraft in which NASA is using.
The details of the deal will be discussed by NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and founder and president of Bigelow Aerospace Robert Bigelow on the 16th of January at the company’s facilities in Las Vegas.
“The International Space Station (ISS) is a unique laboratory that enables important discoveries that benefit humanity and vastly increase understanding of how humans can live and work in space for long periods. This partnership agreement for the use of expandable habitats represents a step forward in cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably, and heralds important progress in U.S. commercial space innovation,” said Ms Garver.
Inflatable modules might sound flimsy for the violent environment of space, but these modules are very safe. As a matter of fact, they are just as sturdy as their rigid counterparts. The strength is due to vectran, a material that is almost twice as strong as kevlar. The exterior of the module has several layers of this material giving it the ability to withstand micro-asteroids and other space debris.
Bigelow Aerospace came about this technology after NASA cancelled the TransHab inflatable module program for the ISS due to budgetary reasons. The company licensed the technology from NASA through the Space Act Agreement (SAA). The SAA is a law by which the space agency can “enter into and perform such contracts, leases, cooperative agreements, or other transactions as may be necessary in the conduct of its work and on such terms as it may deem appropriate, with any agency or instrumentality of the United States, or with any state, territory, or possession, or with any political subdivision thereof, or with any person, firm, association, corporation, or educational institution.” It was established in 1958 during the early days of the space race. This act allows it to circumvent the bureaucratic steps needed to create contracts with commercial companies under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).
After researching the technology for more than 10 years, the company was able to launch unmanned demonstration modules, Genesis I in 2006 and Genesis II in 2007.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman