LAS VEGAS, NV – Good morning from another fabulous day here in Las Vegas! Today, I went over to Bigelow Aerospace. to talk about the Bigelow B330 which is an inflatable habitat that Bigelow wants to send to space to make it easier to build structures and get them up and running as fast as possible. I tried to go inside. We emailed them a couple days ago but unfortunately this was kind of short notice so they didn’t have anybody available to show me around but inside is where they build the B330 which is an inflatable habitat that they want to send to space where astronauts and potentially even tourists could go live and work in space.
The B330 is about three hundred and thirty cubic meters in volume which is where it gets the name from and it’s designed to be a fully functional inflatable habitat it would start in a very small state so that it could fit on top of a pretty skinny rocket like a Falcon 9 or an Atlas V or something like that. They’ll launch into space and that’s where they could inflate it and actually get the full volume available for astronauts. One of the main things that Bigelow is focusing on is the lunar gateway. It should be no secret that NASA is trying to get astronauts back to the moon by 2024. One of NASA’s plans is to get a pretty stripped-down lunar gateway in place which is really just kind of a tin can that has a power module attached to it where astronauts could transfer from their spacecraft to a lander and then go land on the moon. Eventually, NASA wants to expand that and have a livable habitat where astronauts could stay a little more long term. Right now NASA’s plans for the lunar gateway are pretty short-term. They actually need visiting spacecraft to provide life support but the Bigelow B330 would be able to fill a lot of those gaps and provide long-term habitats for astronauts and Bigelow is pushing pretty hard for this. They’ve told NASA that they could have the B330 ready to fly in as little as forty two months. That quick timeline is pretty essential for NASA especially since they’re trying to get astronauts on the moon by 2024 so they’re pretty much ready to go and they’re pushing hard to actually get this thing in lunar orbit.
The B-330 isn’t limited though to Earth orbit or lunar orbit. This thing could go anywhere as long as it can generate power from the Sun. It could provide available habitat for astronauts pretty much anywhere in our solar system. One of the forefront items that it could potentially be used for is if you take two of these B-330’s and hook them together it could be used as sort of transport habitat from Earth to Mars for astronauts that are on long-duration missions.
The B330 is packed with features already including things like radiation shielding to keep the astronauts safe. One of the things that it does not have though is windows. That’s kind of a bummer if you’re going to space. I would want to look out the window to see the moon and see the Earth, but they do have room for curved TVs so that astronauts can at least see a picture of what’s happening outside.
One of the original ideas the Bigelow Aerospace had for the B330 was to actually attach it to the International Space Station and then start sending space tourists to the International Space Station that could live in the B330. At the moment though it seems like Bigelow no longer has plans for that, though, particularly because of how hard it is to coordinate that. There are so many different agencies that are now running the International Space Station that they would have to coordinate with – like eleven different legal departments – just to set up the infrastructure needed to get tourists on to the International Space Station. Additionally, as of right now just to get astronauts up to the International Space Station, people will be paying something along the lines of like 50 million dollars for a ticket up to the space station, to live in the habitat and then back down to earth which, trying to find a customer that’s willing to pay 50 million dollars for a ticket, there’s probably not a lot of those out there.
If you were to compare the B330 habitat to the International Space Station’s Destiny module the Destiny module is about a hundred and six cubic meters compared to the 330 cubic meters of the B 330. The Destiny module is about 15 tonnes in mass and the B330 is 23 tonnes but what that means is that you get two hundred and ten percent more volume for only 53 percent more mass.
One of the concerns that you might have is if it’s an inflatable habitat how robust is this going to be for ballistic materials and space junk that’s out there and Bigelow has said that the B330 is more prepared to handle that sort of ballistic impact then the International Space Station is. In order to handle that, it has about 24 to 36 layers of material and when fully inflated it’s about 18 inches thick.
It’s designed to have two solar arrays, two thermal radiators for heat dissipation as well as life support systems to sustain a crew of up to six astronauts. It’s also got things like a zero-G toilet with solid and liquid waste collection, semi-private berths foreach crew member, exercise equipment, a food storage and preparation station, lighting, and a personal hygiene station so this thing has got it all.
Bigelow is designing the B330 so that a variety of spacecraft can dock with it. They intend for the Soyuz to dock with it the Orion Capsule, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner so they’re prepared for everything to be able to dock right directly to the B330.
The designs and the plans for the B-330 started off as the original transit habitat which was NASA’s development project in the 1990s to develop a habitat that they could use to transport astronauts from Earth to Mars. That program unfortunately had tons of cost overruns and delays. Congress eventually passed a resolution banning NASA from spending any further funding on the development of the trans-habitat and Bigelow purchased all the patents and development work that had been done thus far.
Bigelow Aerospace and the B330 is one of five companies that are developing habitats for NASA to use as part of the lunar gateway ultimately NASA is going to evaluate all these design considerations and choose probably just one contractor to actually build it.