Efforts called off to fully-deploy Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) from the ISS. Credit: NASA

Efforts called off to fully-deploy Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) from the ISS.
Credit: NASA

Efforts were called off today to fully deploy the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) from the International Space Station.

The wave-off came after several hours of attempts to introduce air into the module.

Flight controllers informed NASA astronaut Jeff Williams that BEAM had only expanded a few inches in both length and diameter at the time the operation ceased for the day.

Engineers are meeting to determine a forward course of action, with the possibility that another attempt could be made as early as Friday morning.

Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM). Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM).
Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

BEAM is billed as a vital pathfinder for validating the benefits of expandable habitats, for use in low Earth orbit, cislunar space, as well as for Moon and Mars surface missions. The ISS-attached BEAM is headed for a two-year demonstration period.

Deployment sequence

Launched to the ISS by a SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon, the BEAM was packed in the trunk of the Dragon spacecraft. Once the craft was attached to the ISS, the Canada Arm removed BEAM from the Dragon spacecraft and berthed the module to the Tranquility node (Node 3) of the ISS.

Credt: Bigelow Aerospace

Credt: Bigelow Aerospace

 

Astronauts initiated an automated deployment sequence, allowing the BEAM to start its expansion to full volume – but that plan was not fully realized.

Once expanded, the BEAM is to be monitored for pressure, temperature, radiation protection, and micro-meteoroid/debris impact detection. Astronauts will periodically enter the BEAM to record data, and perform inspections of the module.

 

Bigger plans

BEAM is a precursor to the Bigelow Aerospace B330, a much larger expandable space habitat privately manufactured by Bigelow Aerospace. The design was evolved from NASA’s TransHab habitat concept.

Dual B330s in lunar orbit. Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

Dual B330s in lunar orbit.
Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

As the name indicates, the B330 will provide 330 cubic meters (12,000 cubic feet) of internal volume and each habitat can support a crew of up to six.

The craft can 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.

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