Saturday, February 5, 2011

Inflatable Company for Inflatable Modules

Since the top traffic items on this blog (as I see in the stats) are images of the BA 2100 I posted a while back, I think that talking about further Bigelow news wouldn't go unwarranted. Last night, the local Las Vegas news ran a story about Bigelow's production facility expansion. The building should be operating next year, and it's a 185,000 square foot production plant for inflatable modules. It's not for R&D, it's not for testing, it's to build space hardware on three lines. Today, NASA Deputy Administrator toured the current facility, and out of her tour came some images of the inside of mock ups of some of Bigelow's habitats. I'm not sure which, because BA330 and Sundancer differ mainly in length, but it's an interesting view--very apparent how much larger these modules are. While there, she apparently discussed some elements of a rumored deal to add a Bigelow module of some sort to the ISS, which is supposed to have a contract ready in about 3 months and hardware on orbit 24 months after that.
NASA Deputy Admin Lori Garver inside Bigelow mockup
In addition to the facility expansion, the company also plans to add 1500 new jobs (increasing in size by a factor of ten) over the next 3 years, with about 1,100 just in the next year as the new plant comes on line. Considering the potential of what they're doing there, I'm certainly wondering if they'd have room for an intern or junior engineer. Even if they don't, the possibility of commercial spaceflight is becoming more real with every success like this, from SpaceX's Falcon and Dragon to Bigelow's previous and ongoing successes in station modules, to the work of companies like Armadillo and Virgin Galactic in various areas of suborbital research. Even old space hands like Boeing are getting into the act. With NASA's future still more than a little murky, it's reassuring and perhaps even exciting to see that the state-of-the-art isn't waiting for NASA this time.

In other space news (what was my top space news until I heard this), NASA's looking at undocking a Progress vehicle during the STS-133 flight (which is at the pad and on-schedule for Feb 24th) to get some images of all the ISS access vehicle docked at once in sort of a "family portrait" of ISS, Shuttle, ATV, HTV, Soyuz, and Progress. They did something similar during Mir for the famous image below, and I know that I'm not the only one that would love to see something similar for ISS.

In things a little closer to Earth, the AIAA DBF plane is coming along on schedule. We put together a prototype of the wing connections, and the real wings are only a few days away from being cut, so that's coming along. The fuselage is being troublesome, but I feel confident we'll get it nailed down on time. Even if we don't we're still well ahead of where we were last year at this time, and I feel confident both that the plane will come together and that when we take it to competition, we'll do well.

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