BEAM team members from NASA and Bigelow Aerospace pose in ISS Mission Control. Image source: Bigelow Aerospace via Twitter.
On the second try, Bigelow Aerospace and NASA successfully expanded and pressurized a new prototype habitat module.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was attached April 16 to the International Space Station. Expansion had to wait until crew time was available in late May.
The process began on May 26, but was suspended after expansion failed despite increased pressurization.
BEAM had been compacted about seven months longer than intended, so team members theorized that allowing the fabric to “relax” might do the trick. The bladders between the fabric layers were depressurized. Because BEAM is in the vacuum of space, it retained its shape.
Proceeding slowly on May 28, astronaut Jeff Williams added a second or two of pressure when directed by ISS Mission Control. As BEAM continued to expand, longer and frequent bursts of air were permitted.
The module measured just over 7 feet long and just under 7.75 feet in diameter in its packed configuration. BEAM now measures more than 13 feet long and about 10.5 feet in diameter to create 565 cubic feet of habitable volume. It weighs approximately 3,000 pounds.
During the next week, leak checks will be performed on BEAM to ensure its structural integrity. Hatch opening and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams’ first entrance into BEAM will take place about a week after leak checks are complete.
Bigelow Aerospace tweeted an update today:
Status update: just over 24 hours after the successful expansion & pressurization of BEAM, receiving good data, pressure holding steady.— Bigelow Aerospace (@BigelowSpace) May 29, 2016
Click the arrow to watch a time-lapse video of the BEAM expansion. Video source: NASA Johnson YouTube channel.