Science

ISS pump-up space podule fully engorged

Bigelow Expandable Activity Module finally fattened

By Lester Haines

50 SHARE

The International Space Station (ISS) grew by 16m3 on Saturday as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was successfully inflated at the second attempt.

Success: The ISS gains 16m3. Pic: NASA TV

NASA Astronaut Jeff Williams spent around seven hours gradually introducing air from the ISS into BEAM in short bursts, "as flight controllers carefully monitored the module’s internal pressure".

While BEAM has its own onboard oxygen cylinders, these were only deployed after inflation to "pressurize the module", NASA explains.

A first pop at engorgement ended in disappointment last week, with BEAM expanding just a few inches. Bigelow Aerospace explained: "The BEAM spacecraft has been in a packed state for a significantly longer time than expected. It has undergone a tremendous squeeze for over 15 months, which is 10 months longer than planned. Therefore, there is a potential for the behavior of the materials that make up the outside of the spacecraft to act differently than expected."

The company's ‎aerospace project manager, Lisa Kauke, said: "When the fabric is compressed it has memory of its shape and it takes time for materials to relax and come back from its uncompressed state. We are confident nothing is wrong with the BEAM."

Following leak checks, Jeff Williams will enter the habitat in about week's time. Astronauts will then follow suit several times a year, as NASA and Bigelow assess how it performs in the rigours of space over the next two years.

BEAM attached to the ISS's Tranquility module. Pic: NASA

While there are no immediate plans to take advantage of BEAM's extra space, NASA hasn't ruled out "using the module to house equipment or to give the astronauts a new playroom later on", as we noted last week.

Bigelow's long-term ambitions are to construct a large scale inflatable habitat to "support zero-gravity research including scientific missions, manufacturing processes, a destination for space tourism and a craft for missions destined for the Moon and Mars". ®

Sign up to our NewsletterGet IT in your inbox daily

50 Comments

More from The Register

Three become six as new 'nauts arrive for a visit to the ISS

Russia's back in the crewed spaceflight game with a bang

Busy week for ISS as Russia resumes flights and vies for parking spaces with NASA

Roundup Don't worry, it was just cargo, not 'nauts

NASA duo plan Tuesday ISS spacewalk to replace the mux that sux

All hail Peggy Whitson, hands-on sysadmin – IN SPAAACE

NASA delivers CREAM-y load to ISS to improve cosmic ray detection

Far away from where Earth's atmosphere can interfere

Russian computer failure on ISS is nothing to worry about – they're just going to turn it off and on again

The one place where you really don't want your comp to die

Bad weather, baulky booster keep ISS 'naut snacks on the ground

Fresh fruit, fresh batteries stuck on Japanese launchpad as HTV-7 hopes to catch a break

Russia: The hole in the ISS Soyuz lifeboat – was it the crew wot dunnit?

Station commander issues suitably withering response

Pulses quicken at NASA as SpaceX gets closer to crewed launches and Russia readies the next Soyuz

If only there was some way the agency could unwind a bit. Or maybe not

Third Soyuz does not explode while auditors resume poking around NASA's big rocket SLS

Meanwhile, SpaceX forges ahead with BFR, pretty chill

NASA opens ISS to private sector modules

The plan is to to build wider experience useful for Izzy's successor