Human Activities in Space
The ISS is a joint project of the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and 11 of ESA’s member states to build and operate a research facility in LEO that can host crews of up to six people. Assembly of the ISS in space began in 1998.
Bigelow Aerospace has been working for several years to develop commercial orbital habitats using expandable modules. This approach, leveraging technology licensed from NASA, involves launching modules in a compact form and inflating them once in orbit, creating much larger volumes than would be possible with traditional metallic structures.
The best-known in-space platform is the International Space Station (ISS), a project led by the United States in conjunction with Russia, Canada, Japan, and several member nations of ESA. The ISS operates in LEO and serves as a research facility and testing laboratory. The station has been crewed by astronauts and cosmonauts from 15 different nations and has been serviced by a variety of spacecraft.
Another type of in-space platform currently under development is Bigelow Aerospace’s Sundancer, an inflatable habitat tentatively scheduled for launch in 2011. Sundancer builds upon the success of the Genesis I and II demonstration modules, launched in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Sundancer is intended to accommodate experiments and support humans in orbit.
Bigelow Aerospace, an entrepreneurial company, is developing a second type of in-space platform: an inflatable habitat. Essentially a compressed module that expands once deployed in space, the habitat is designed to accommodate experiments and sustain human occupants in the future.
In addition to satellites and spacecraft, a third major facet of in-space activity involves in-space platforms. In-space platforms are facilities or modules constructed or placed in space with the intention of creating a permanent or semi-permanent location and resource base for staging further space activities. The International Space Station is the only operational in-space platform.
NASA’s future exploration plans include outposts on the Moon, though many of the details and specifications for these habitats are yet to be determined. According to NASA: “Astronauts will set up a lunar outpost — possibly near a south pole site called Shackleton Crater — where they’ll conduct scientific research, as well as test technologies and techniques for possible exploration of Mars and other destinations.”
An entrepreneurial company, Bigelow Aerospace, is developing an in-space platform based on inflatable technology originally conceived in NASA’s TransHab program. It is building modules that can be used as platforms for in-orbit accommodations, research, and training. Bigelow has launched two prototypes into orbit: Genesis I in July 2006 and Genesis II in June 2007.
The largest in-space platform ever constructed is the International Space Station (ISS). The development of the ISS, led by the United States, “draws upon the scientific and technological resources of 16 nations: the United States, Canada, Japan, Russia, 11 nations of the European Space Agency, and Brazil,” according to NASA.[