Billionaire Bigelow’s Big Balloon – inflatable space station is open for visitors. has photos and background on B333, an expandable and expansive zero-gravity habitat for the next generation of space explorers. Bottom line is it’s pretty big:

The space agency is currently conducting a two-week ground test on Bigelow Aerospace’s B330 habitat here at the company’s headquarters. Eight NASA astronauts have participated in the trial so far, and four were on the scene Thursday (Sept. 12) to assess various aspects of the big, expandable module.

The tests, which involve two B330 test units, are part of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program. In 2016, NextSTEP awarded funding to Bigelow and five other companies to develop ground prototypes for habitats that could help NASA astronauts journey to the moon, Mars and other deep-space destinations.

“The purpose of this test program is not to pick a winner or a loser but to find what we like and what we don’t like,” former NASA astronaut Mike Gernhardt, the principal investigator for the NextSTEP habitat-testing program, said during a media event here Thursday. (Reporters were allowed to photograph the interior of one of the test modules, the all-steel Mars Transporter Testing Unit. But the other one was off-limits for imagery.)

“And that will all be melded into requirements going forward for the final flight design,” added Gernhardt, who flew four space shuttle missions during his astronaut career.

The module takes its name from its 330 cubic meters (11,650 cubic feet) of internal volume. That’s a lot of space. For comparison, the pressurized volume of the entire International Space Station (ISS) is about 930 cubic m (32,840 cubic feet).

The B330 is designed to support four astronauts indefinitely and five “for many months,” Bigelow Aerospace founder and President Robert Bigelow said in a statement Thursday.

At launch, the B330 will be compressed enough to fit inside a 16.5-foot-wide (5 m) payload fairing. After it reaches space, the module will be inflated using onboard gas canisters.

The module’s expandable nature is its chief selling point; the B330 will provide much more habitable volume per unit of launch mass than is available in a traditional aluminum module, Bigelow Aerospace representatives stressed.

Check out the story on – there’s one delightful photo showing a bunch of gangways and overhead struts labeled with big green stickers: “Does not exist.” Explained in the caption: The “does not exist” tags point out pieces that will not be part of the real space habitat, which won’t need walkways and other gravity-related structural elements.

[via Sr. do Carmo]