Nasa To Expand International Space Station With $17M Bigelow Expandable Activity Module

Nasa is set to expand the International Space Station with an inflatable module made by a private company.

Bigelow Aerospace is producing the new module for $17.8 million, which in comparison to most Nasa projects is remarkably cheap.

The exact specification of the module has not been announced, but it is thought to be similar to the BA 330 prototypes which are already orbiting Earth.

It is also expected that SpaceX will help Bigelow to launch the module into space - the two already have a launch scheduled for 2015.

"The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module will demonstrate the benefits of this space habitat technology for future exploration and commercial space endeavors."

The full details of the expansion will be announced on Wednesday, Nasa said. Images of Bigelow Aerospace's modules on its websites depict a live-work space rather than a science lab, though it is unclear if this will reflect the final design.

"The International Space Station is a unique laboratory that enables important discoveries that benefit humanity and vastly increase understanding of how humans can live and work in space for long periods," Nasa Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said.

"This partnership agreement for the use of expandable habitats represents a step forward in cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably, and heralds important progress in U.S. commercial space innovation."

Above: Deputy Administrator Lori Garver of NASA is given a tour of the Bigelow Aerospace facilities by the company's President Robert Bigelow February 4, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The space station has been continuously occupied for more than 12 years, and is set to be in service until at least 2020.

The new module would provide more space for crew and science experiments aboard the space station, for a fraction of the cost of some more expensive modules.

Other modules currently scheduled to be added to the station include the Russian-built Nauka module, which will replace the Pirs laboratory in 2014 and also operate on its own as a separate space station once the ISS is retired.

The Node Module will also join with the ISS in 2014, and will eventually form the core of Russia's Opsek space station.