Astronaut enters first inflatable space habitat; tests sensors


Astronaut Jeff Williams works inside the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. Credit: NASA TV

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module’s (BEAM) hatch – on the International Space Station – was opened up for the first time on Monday, June 6.

Astronaut Jeff Williams entered BEAM and checked sensors, installed air ducts and reported back to Earth that it was in pristine condition. After Williams completed the BEAM checks, he exited and closed the hatch for the day. The BEAM was launched on April 8 aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and was attached to the International Space Station’s Tranquility module about a week later.

The crew will enter BEAM a couple of more times through Wednesday to check sensors and gear. BEAM will stay attached to the International Space Station for two years of tests of its durability. The project’s primary task of gathering data on how an expandable habitat performs in the thermal environment of space, and how it reacts to radiation, micrometeoroids, and orbital debris.

Human Research Studies

The rest of the Expedition 47 crew moved right along with human research studies benefiting astronauts in space and people on Earth. British astronaut Tim Peake explored how astronauts adapt to tasks requiring high concentration and detailed procedures. Williams later collected biological samples for stowage and analysis for the Multi-Omics experiment that is studying the immune system.

Commander Tim Peake and Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko are packing their Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft and getting ready for a June 18 departure. Peake will join the duo for the ride home after living in space for six months.

The BEAM is the first human-rated expandable module deployed in space, a technology demonstration to investigate the potential challenges and benefits of expandable habitats for deep space exploration and commercial low-Earth orbit applications.

Williams and the NASA and Bigelow Aerospace teams working at Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston expanded the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) by filling it with air during more than seven hours of operations on  Saturday, May 28.

Data Collection

During BEAM’s test period, the module typically will be closed off to the rest of the space station. Astronauts will enter the module three to four times each year to collect temperature, pressure and radiation data, and to assess its structural condition. After two years of monitoring, the current plan is to jettison the BEAM from the space station to burn up on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

Expandable habitats are designed to take up less room when being launched but provide greater volume for living and working in space once expanded. This first test of an expandable module will allow investigators to gauge how well the habitat performs and specifically, how well it protects against solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space.

The expansion process already has provided numerous lessons learned on how soft goods interact during the dynamic event of expansion.

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. – NASA

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