Life support seems to be progressing....
WASHINGTON — Bigelow Aerospace completed an initial closed-loop test in March of a prototype environmental control and life support (ECLS) system designed to support extended crew stays inside the inflatable habitats the company is building to provide research facilities and hotel accommodations in space.
The March 31 demonstration was conducted inside the company’s North Las Vegas headquarters in a newly constructed test chamber, according to Eric Haakonstad, Bigelow Aerospace chief engineer. He said the test involved locking three Bigelow engineers inside the 180-cubic-meter structure for about eight hours, during which they performed a variety of tasks that demonstrated the ECLS system’s ability to control temperature, humidity, pressure, oxygen content and the removal of carbon dioxide and trace-gas contaminants from the environment.
Haakonstad said the initial checkout of the test facility is the first of many demos planned over the next year to simulate and test ECLS systems in support of long-duration crew stays in orbit. He said within the next couple of months Bigelow Aerospace plans to conduct a 30-hour demonstration of the ECLS system followed by another lasting up to a week.
He said both the ECLS system and its test chamber were built in-house, giving the company more control over system development.
Haakonstad said Bigelow’s ECLS design incorporates lessons learned from systems used aboard platforms including the international space station, the Mir space station, the space shuttle and, to a lesser extent, the Orion crew capsule currently under development by NASA.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” Haakonstad said. “All we’re trying to do is take the technology development that our tax dollars through NASA have developed and package them into a more producible form factor. We’re not trying to be cutting edge in terms of technology; we are trying to be cutting edge in terms of affordability and availability and ruggedness.”
However, unlike ECLS systems designed for short-term trips between Earth and the space station, Bigelow’s ECLS system is designed to support long-duration missions on orbit.