General Science

The ISS Gets a New Room

posted: 04/26/16
by: Cody Barr
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An Artist's rendering of the BEAM Inflatable Habitat.
Bigelow Aerospace

Big things have been happening at the International Space Station. After 15 years and $17.8 million, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will finally be attached to the ISS's Tranquility module, making it the very first human-rated expandable habitat in outer space.

BEAM is co-sponsored by NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Division and Bigelow Aerospace, a Nevada-based startup founded by billionaire entrepreneur Robert Bigelow. In 1999, Bigelow Aerospace bought the expandable space module technology patents from NASA upon Congress's cancelation of the International Space Station (ISS) TransHab project. BEAM is a continuation and modernization of this abandoned project.

"This partnership agreement for the use of expandable habitats represents a step forward in cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably, and heralds important progress in U.S. commercial space innovation," NASA deputy chief Lori Garver said in a statement released when the NASA/Bigelow Aerospace partnership was announced in early 2013.

Bigelow Aerospace has yet to release information regarding the specific materials used to create BEAM's outer layers and what allows the structure to maintain its shape in space - the layers can apparently absorb and break up any space particles they come in contact with. After inflation, BEAM will grow from 7 feet in diameter by 8 feet in length to approximately 10 feet in diameter and 13 feet in length when it is pumped with air at the end of May, according to NASA. It will reportedly provide 565 cubic feet of room for astronauts to move around.

BEAM will remain attached to the station for two years with astronauts visiting it frequently to observe and assess its performance and durability. Should the structure remain in tact, NASA and Bigelow will continue to look into the possibilities of taking humans to Mars.

"We do want to look at the use of expandables in what we call our Mars transit architecture," NASA's lead on the BEAM project Jason Crusan told NPR.

The success of BEAM will also be a win for those in favor of the commercialization of space. If these structures are indeed habitable, the possibility of vacationing in outer space is one step closer to reality.

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