May 25, 2016 – The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will be deployed to its fully pressurized size Thursday, May 26, and begin its two-year technology demonstration attached to the International Space Station. NASA Television will provide coverage of the expansion beginning at 3:30 a.m. MDT.
NASA astronaut Jeff Williams will lead Thursday’s operations to expand the module. Designers need daylight and video communication to closely monitor the process starting at 4:10 a.m. Thursday.
Space station astronauts will first enter the habitat Thursday, June 2, through the station’s Tranquility module, and re-enter the module several times a year throughout the two-year test period to retrieve sensor data and assess conditions inside the module.
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.
BEAM launched April 8 aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and is an example of NASA’s increased commitment to partnering with industry to enable the growth of the commercial use of space. The BEAM project is co-sponsored by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division and Bigelow Aerospace.
Under contract with NASA, Sierra Nevada Corporation manufactured and deliver the Passive Common Berthing Mechanism (PCBM) that was attached to BEAM before launch. The mechanism was then used to attach BEAM to the ISS on April 16, 2016.
The International Space Station serves as the world’s leading laboratory for conducting cutting-edge microgravity research and is the primary platform for technology development and testing in space to enable human and robotic exploration of destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, including asteroids and Mars.
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Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced a partnership at the Space Foundation’s Space Symposium last month. The partners will develop and deploy space habitats to be used in Low Earth Orbit and expect the first of these to launch into orbit in 2020 on ULA’s Atlas V rocket. The habitat will be based on the Bigelow Aerospace B330 expandable module, which is a larger version than the one being tested on the ISS, and is designed to sustain a crew for as little as a week or two, or as long as 45-60 days at a time. The craft will support zero-gravity research including scientific missions and manufacturing processes. Beyond its industrial and scientific purposes, however, it has potential as a destination for space tourism and a craft for missions destined for the Moon and Mars.