Artist's view of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) attached to the International Space Station. Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

Artist’s view of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) attached to the International Space Station.
Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

 

The long awaited debut of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is near at hand.

BEAM is a product of the private group, Bigelow Aerospace of North Las Vegas, Nevada. The technology was developed under a NASA contract in an effort to test and validate expandable habitat technology.

Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

Beyond the BEAM is the prospect of seeing larger expandable habitats utilized in Earth orbit and at deep space destinations.

Station resupply

BEAM is slated for launch in the unpressurized aft trunk compartment of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on the eighth resupply mission (CRS-8) to the International Space Station (ISS). Depending on a SpaceX static fire test of its Falcon 9 booster, BEAM could be rocketed to the ISS as early as April 8th.

Inside look at BEAM. Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

Inside look at BEAM.
Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

CRS-8 will be the first CRS mission to the ISS since the ill-fated CRS-7.

Back on June 28, 2015, the Falcon 9 lifted off carrying Dragon and an International Docking Adapter for the ISS, but an overpressure event caused the rocket to disintegrate moments before stage separation.

Pathfinder technology

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 will see a two-year demonstration period.

At launch of the Falcon 9, the BEAM will be in a packed configuration in the trunk of the Dragon spacecraft. Once in Earth orbit, the Canada Arm will remove BEAM from the Dragon spacecraft and berth the module to the Tranquility node (Node 3) of the ISS. Astronauts will initiate an automated deployment sequence, allowing the BEAM to passively expand to its full volume.

The BEAM will 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.

Dual B330s in lunar orbit. Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

Dual B330s in lunar orbit.
Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

Larger habitat

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.

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.

NextSTEP

Under a NASA Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (“NextSTEP”) contract, Bigelow Aerospace will demonstrate how B330 habitats can be used to support safe, affordable, and robust human spaceflight missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Bigelow B330 module, an inside look. Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

Bigelow B330 module, an inside look.
Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

“We’re eager to work with NASA to show how B330s can support historic human spaceflight missions to the Moon and other destinations in cislunar space while still staying within the bounds of the Agency’s existing budget,” said Bigelow Aerospace’s President and founder, Robert T. Bigelow.

“NASA originally conceived of expandable habitats decades ago to perform beyond LEO missions, and we at Bigelow Aerospace look forward to finally bringing that vision to fruition,” Bigelow said in a company statement.

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