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The Space Station is Getting an Inflatable Add-On Module

NASA and Bigelow Aerospace, located in Las Vegas, Nevada, are teaming up to launch the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) on Friday, April 8, 2016. This tent-like structure will be packed in the aft trunk of the Space X Dragon supply vehicle and attached to the Tranquility node of the International Space Station (ISS). Testing will take place over two years to determine if it will be a viable housing option for future space missions.

Cutaway of BEAM and Dragon

Cutaway of BEAM and Dragon

Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator says,

The world of low earth orbit belongs to industry. You need to understand where we are going. A Bigelow module may be the next thing that begins to replace some of the functions of the International Space Station … If we don’t have a viable, vibrant low earth orbit infrastructure supported by them (Industry), we’re not getting there (Mars).

The inflated module, 13 feet long and 10.5 feet in diameter was developed under NASA contract to Bigelow and may provide extra space for future astronauts to live and work. Expandable technology like BEAM, lightweight and easy to construct, may provide space habitats for low earth orbit, the moon, Mars and beyond.

BEAM will be attached to the ISS but will not be used for storage or habitation. An astronaut will enter BEAM four times a year to perform inspections and record data. The module will be checked for structural condition, pressure, temperature, radiation protection and micro-meteoroid/debris impact detection.

Rendering of BEAM

Rendering of BEAM

BEAM is constructed with a multiple layer skin. Inside is an air barrier (bladder). There are micro-meteoroid and orbital debris layers that should stop space particles from breaching the primary structure and, if punctured, will develop a slow leak and not burst. There are external multi-layer insulation (MLI) layers and an exterior fireproof BETA cloth. There is a restraint that provides structural, load-bearing capabilities. The module absorbs noise for quiet living.

Sadly, after the two-year experiment, BEAM will be released from ISS to burn up in reentry into the atmosphere.

However, if proven viable, BEAM’s offspring may provide habitable structures for those in outer space and on earth. Earth applications include pop-up habitats in disaster zones or in remote locations. It can be used as a storm surge device, a plug to prevent flooding is pipelines or subways. It can be a fluid storage container or a hyperbolic chamber for oxygen delivery among other applications.

BEAM me up!