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A prototype inflatable space module, developed by Bigelow Aerospace, will be tested aboard the International Space Station.

NASA will pay Bigelow $17.8 million for the experimental habitat, known as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM.

It would be the company’s third orbital prototype, but the first to be tested as part of a crewed spacecraft.  The demonstration not only is expected to help Bigelow lease space to paying customers aboard its planned free-flying Earth-orbiting outposts. NASA also is interested in the technology for future deep space missions, such as to an asteroid, the moon, or Mars.

“This partnership agreement … represents a step forward in cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably,” NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver said in a statement.

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