First-ever expandable habitat for astronauts on way to ISS

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Washington, April 9 (IANS) Carrying nearly 3,175 kg of cargo including expandable habitats and key medical research that will leverage benefits for the humanity, SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft was headed to the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday.

Lifted off on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, it will deliver the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) to the orbital laboratory.

The expandable structure has the potential to revolutionise work and life for astronauts on the space station.

BEAM module will expand to roughly 10 feet in diameter and 13 feet long.

During its two-year test mission, astronauts will enter the module for a few hours several times a year to retrieve sensor data and assess conditions.

Expandable habitats are designed to take up less room on a rocket, but provide greater volume for living and working in space once expanded.

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This test will allow investigators to gauge how well the habitat protects against solar radiation, space debris and contamination.

“The cargo will allow investigators to use microgravity conditions to test the viability of expandable space habitats,” said NASA deputy administrator Dava Newman in a statement.

“Other tests will assess the impact of antibodies on muscle wasting, use protein crystal growth to aid the design of new disease-fighting drugs and investigate how microbes could affect the health of the crew and their equipment over a long duration mission,” Newman added.

The mission is SpaceX’s eighth cargo delivery through NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.

Dragon’s cargo will support dozens of the more than 250 science and research investigations taking place on the space station during Expeditions 47 and 48.

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Dragon will be grappled on Sunday by ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Tim Peake, using the station’s Candarm2 robotic arm with help from NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.

Dragon also will deliver Microchannel Diffusion, a study of fluids at the nanoscale or atomic level.

Nanofluidic sensors could measure the air in the space station, or be used to deliver drugs to specific places in the body.

Another experiment onboard Dragon is a protein crystal growth investigation focused on drug design and development.

The spacecraft is scheduled to depart the space station on May 11 for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, west of Baja California, bringing almost 3,500 pounds of science, hardware and spacewalking tools back to Earth for further study,.

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