The International Space Station will continue its home improvement project next year, this time by adding a large, inflatable workroom from Bigelow Aerospace.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, will head to low-Earth orbit (LEO) in 2015 aboard the Dragon, a rocket built and operated by the privately run, Elon Musk-founded company SpaceX.
NASA is paying Bigelow $17.5 million for its extra room.
The addition of a relatively inexpensive room, built by a private company and put into orbit by a private company, marks a fairly significant transition for manned spaceflight: From an activity led primarily by government agencies to one dominated by commercial interests.
“LEO will become a commercial domain,” Mike Gold, the director of D.C. operations for Bigelow Aerospace, told Space.com.
Gold added that this mirrors an earlier transition with unmanned satellites. In the 1950s and 1960s, nearly every artificial satellite orbiting the Earth was put there by a government entity. Now, the publicly funded satellites are the exception, while most orbiters are put there by companies like DirecTV, Sirius/XM, Hughes, Loral Skynet, and many others.
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