May 30, 2016 – The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was expanded to its full size at 2:10 p.m. MDT on Saturday, May 28. Expansion was completed as the International Space Station flew over the south Pacific at an altitude of 252 miles.
NASA Astronaut Jeff Williams and the NASA and Bigelow Aerospace teams working at Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center spent more than seven hours on operations to fill the BEAM with air to cause it to expand.
Williams opened the valve 25 times for a total time of 2 minutes and 27 seconds to add air to the module in short bursts as flight controllers carefully monitored the module’s internal pressure. Time in between bursts allowed the module to stabilize and expand.
Williams then began the final step to open eight tanks of air stored within the BEAM to pressurize the module.
Pressurization of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) began at 2:34 p.m. MDT, and the eight tanks completed full pressurization of the module 10 minutes later at 2:44 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 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.
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.