Initially, NASA and Bigelow are interested in getting information about how the structure withstands radiation and maintains a stable temperature in orbit, and also whether the fabric mildews or becomes a place where contaminants in the station’s air collects.
Beyond the test flight, Bigelow’s commercial business is dependent on the development of space taxis to fly company personnel and guests into orbit. NASA likewise is looking to the private sector to fly its astronauts to and from the space station, a service now solely provided by Russia at a cost of more than $60 million per person.
NASA is investing in three companies - Boeing Co, Space Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada Corp - in hopes of having at least one space transportation system ready to fly before the end of 2017. The space station, a project of 15 nations, currently is funded through 2020.
Bigelow has agreements with Boeing and SpaceX for launch services, if and when they become available. SpaceX plans a test launch with company astronauts before the end of 2015, and Boeing’s first piloted flight is pegged for 2016.