What is BEAM?
The expandable habitat was successfully attached to the space station at 5:36 a.m. ET today. It launched to space station aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft on April 8. This habitat could pave the way for future space habitats on missions to deep space.
SpaceX launched the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module into orbit earlier in April, and the test module is set to stay aboard the station for two years for testing, NASA said Saturday.
The Bigelow Aerospace Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was successfully installed to the station at 5:36 a.m. EDT, a huge step for expandable habitats in space and our journey to Mars. It will remain attached to station for a two-year test period.
The Five W’s of an Expandable Habitat in Space
Who: In this case, it’s really a “what.” The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is an expandable module developed by Bigelow Aerospace using a NASA patent conceptualized in the 1990s. It is made up of layers of fabric that will expand when installed and equalize with the pressure of the International Space Station.
What: Sensors inside BEAM will monitor temperature and radiation changes, as well as its resistance to potential orbital debris impacts. During its time on station, the airlock between BEAM and the rest of the space station will remained closed, and astronauts will enter only to collect data and help the experiment progress. If BEAM is punctured, the habitat is designed to slowly compress to keep the rest of the space station safe.
With the BEAM launch, deployment and time on station, Bigelow will demonstrate a number of expandable habitat capabilities, such as its folding and packing techniques, radiation protection capability and its thermal, structural and mechanical durability.
When: BEAM is set to launch on SpaceX’s eighth Dragon resupply mission April 8, and will be docked to the space station for a minimum two-year demonstration period.
Where: The International Space Station’s mechanical arm will transport BEAM from the spacecraft to a berthing port on the Tranquility module where it will then be expanded.
Why: These expandable modules take up less room on a rocket, but once set up, provide more volume for living and working in space.
When we’re traveling to Mars or beyond, astronauts need habitats that are both durable and easy to transport and to set up. That’s where expandable technology comes in. BEAM is one of the first steps to test expandable structures as a viable alternative to traditional space habitats.