The team for the NASA-Bigelow Aerospace habitat test lines up in front of the Bigelow Mars Transporter Testing Unit at the company’s Nevada headquarters. (Bigelow Aerospace Photo)
Bigelow Aerospace opened up its ground-based prototype for a space station module — or perhaps even a Mars transport habitat — for inspection today at its headquarters in North Las Vegas.
The open house centered on the Mars Transporter Testing Unit, an all-steel mockup of the company’s expandable, fabric-covered B330 space module. For two weeks, a NASA-Bigelow team will be testing the suitability of the B330 concept for crewed deep-space missions.
Bigelow’s prototype is one of six ground-based demonstration projects funded as part of NASA’s NextSTEP-2 program. The other companies building full-sized NextSTEP-2 prototypes for space habitats include Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Sierra Nevada Corp. and Nanoracks.
Northrop Grumman’s modified Cygnus cargo carrier has already won NASA’s nod for use as the crewed mini-habitation module on the future moon-orbiting Gateway outpost, mainly because it was the only one judged likely to be built in time for a 2024 lunar landing.
However, Bigelow Aerospace and other contractors are hoping their concepts will remain in the running for future deep-space facilities.
Bigelow’s expandable space ...