As reported by Space.com, Begelow Aerospace’s Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will be carried to the International Space Station by a SpaceX Dragon cargo vessel in 2015. NASA is paying $17.8 million to have the module taken to the ISS. Once joined to the station’s Tranquility node by the robotic Canadarm2, BEAM will remain attached for several years.
“[Low-Earth orbit] will become a commercial domain,” said Mike Gold, Bigelow’s director of Washington, D.C. operations and business growth, while speaking at the International Astronautical Congress on October 2. “Maybe it’s difficult to see at this point, but we go back to telecom – there was a time when every communications satellite was owned by the government.”
BEAM is an inflatable demonstration module, one that is intended to allow Bigelow to accrue data on how such modules function in space. Prior test missions took place recently in 2006 and 2007. Bigelow hopes to assemble a private orbital space station in the not too distant future.
NASA’s chief of human exploration and operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, also spoke at the conference. He was featured on the same panel as Bigelow’s Gold. BEAM is in fact part of a larger NASA initiative of bringing in private industry as part of the ISS missions, as well as on board other operations in low-Earth orbit. NASA plans on looking at radiation levels inside BEAM and then comparing them with those inside the station’s conventional modules.
NASA is also assembling voluntary international standards for private companies to use when planning their own orbital stations. The standards, which are still being refined, include various ways in which companies can select radio frequencies that will not disrupt one another’s communications.
For his part, Gold blames the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) for slowing private progress in space by limiting the exchange of technologies with other countries.