Following extraction from the Dragon spacecraft, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was installed to the International Space Station at 5:36 a.m. EDT. At the time of installation, the space station was flying over the Southern Pacific Ocean. It will remain attached to station for two-year test period. The expandable module rode to space during the latest SpaceX launch of its Falcon 9 rocket.
NASA is investigating concepts for habitats that can keep astronauts healthy during space exploration. Expandable habitats are one such concept under consideration – they require less payload volume on the rocket than traditional rigid structures, and expand after being deployed in space to provide additional room for astronauts to live and work inside. BEAM will be the first test of such a module attached to the space station. It will allow investigators to gauge how well it performs overall, and how it protects against solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space.
"Our hope is that NASA would be the primary customer for that structure," Robert Bigelow, the founder of Bigelow Aerospace said at a press conference on Monday at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.
The deployed BEAM spacecraft has a mass of around 1,360 Kilograms and in its deployed configuration measures 4 meters in length and 3.2 meters in diameter with a living volume of 16 cubic meters.
“Well we’re excited to add another – what is essentially – vehicle on to the Station,” Expedition 47’s Tim Kopra noted this week during media interviews from the ISS. “This is another example of where the commercial industry has been innovative in their techniques.”
In late May, BEAM will be filled with air and expanded to its full size. Astronauts will enter BEAM on an occasional basis to conduct tests to validate the module’s overall performance and the capability of expandable habitats. After the testing period is completed, BEAM will be released from the space station to eventually burn up harmlessly in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Bigelow tested two unmanned prototypes a decade ago, but BEAM is its first inflatable that will host astronauts.