Bigelow Expandable space station module has been expanded at the Space Station

Pressurization of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) began at 4:34 p.m. EDT, and the eight tanks filled with air completed full pressurization of the module 10 minutes later at 4:44 p.m. BEAM’s pressure will be equalized with that of the International Space Station, where it will remain attached for a two-year test period.

The module measured just over 7 feet long and just under 7.75 feet in diameter in its packed configuration. BEAM now measures more than 13 feet long and about 10.5 feet in diameter to create 565 cubic feet of habitable volume. It weighs approximately 3,000 pounds.

During the next week, leak checks will be performed on BEAM to ensure its structural integrity. Hatch opening and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams’ first entrance into BEAM will take place about a week after leak checks are complete.

BEAM is an example of NASA’s increased commitment to partnering with industry to enable the growth of the commercial use of space. The project is co-sponsored by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division and Bigelow Aerospace.

The space station now hosts the new fully expanded and pressurized Bigelow Expandable Activity Module attached to the Tranquility module. Credit: NASA

Expandable habitats are designed to take up less room on a spacecraft but provide greater volume for living and working in space once expanded. This first test of an expandable module will allow investigators to gauge how well the habitat performs and specifically, how well it protects against solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space.

NASA is investigating concepts for habitats that can keep astronauts healthy and productive during missions that take them farther from Earth than humans have ever gone before. Through public private partnerships with U.S. industry, NASA is evaluating different habitation concepts that can sustain astronauts who are living and working in the harsh environment of deep space. Expandable habitats are one such concept under consideration.

Expandable modules could be used for Mars Missions

Before sending the first astronauts to the Red Planet, NASA will deploy several rockets filled with cargo and supplies to await the crews’ arrival. Expandable modules, which require less volume on a rocket and could weigh less than traditional rigid structures, might increase the efficiency of cargo shipments, possibly reducing the number of launches needed and overall mission costs.

• In its packed launch configuration, the module will measure 7.09 feet long and just under 7.75 feet in diameter.
• In its deployed, expanded configuration, the BEAM will measure 13.16 feet long and 10.5 feet in diameter, providing 565 cubic feet of habitable volume.
• The BEAM’s mass is approximately 3,000 pounds (1,360 kg).
• The BEAM is composed of: two metal bulkheads, an aluminum structure, and multiple layers of soft fabric with spacing between layers, protecting an internal restraint layer and bladder system. It has no windows.
• The BEAM will travel to the space station in the unpressurized aft trunk of the Dragon capsule during the eighth SpaceX Commercial Resupply Mission.
• Robotics ground controllers will use the robotic Canadarm2 robotic arm to extract the BEAM from the Dragon capsule and attach it to the aft section of the Tranquility Node on the space station.
• The BEAM’s planned mission duration is two years.
• The BEAM is outfitted with various sensors and radiation monitors

B330 habitat under study

In 2015, NASA has executed a contract with Bigelow Aerospace for the company to develop ambitious human spaceflight missions that leverage its innovative B330 space habitat. The contract was executed under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (“NextSTEP”) Broad Agency Announcement issued by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems program.

Via its NextSTEP contract, Bigelow Aerospace will demonstrate to NASA how B330 habitats can be used to support safe, affordable, and robust human spaceflight missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. As the name indicates, the B330 will provide 330 cubic meters of internal volume and each habitat can support a crew of up to six. Bigelow expandable habitats provide much greater volume than metallic structures, as well as enhanced protection against radiation and physical debris.

The B330 module will provide radiation protection equivalent to or better than existing International Space Station (ISS) modules. When fully expanded, the hull thickness will be approximately 0.46m (18in) and offer ballistic protection superior to that currently afforded to ISS. The hull will also feature at least four large UV protection coated windows that will offer unparalleled earth viewing from orbit.

The B330 would be 3 times more efficient in getting livable and productive space station volume than the ISS.

SOURCES – NASA, Bigelow Aerospace, Wikipedia