First expandable habitat for astronauts installed on ISS

New York, April 17 (IANS) The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) — an expandable habitat crucial for future deep space exploration — was installed at the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday.

Engineers at National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Johnson Space Centre in Houston used the ISS’s high-tech robotic arm to pluck BEAM from the back of the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship that reached the space station on April 11 and added it onto the orbiting laboratory complex.

At the time of installation, the space station was moving over the Southern Pacific Ocean at an altitude of about 350 km from the Earth’s surface. It will remain attached to the station for the two-year test period, US space agency NASA wrote in a blog.

NASA is investigating concepts for habitats that can keep astronauts healthy during space exploration and BEAM will be the first test of such a module attached to the space station.

It will allow investigators to gauge how well it performs overall and how it protects against solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space.

Expandable habitats require less payload volume on the rocket than traditional rigid structures and expand after being deployed in space to provide additional room for astronauts to live and work inside.

In late May, BEAM will be filled with air and expanded four and a half times its original volume. From its compressed size of 8 feet diameter by 7 feet length, once inflated it will provide 565-cubic feet of habitable volume.

Astronauts will enter BEAM on an occasional basis to conduct tests to validate the module’s overall performance and the capability of expandable habitats.

After the testing period is completed, BEAM will be released from the space station to eventually burn up harmlessly in the earth’s atmosphere.

The 1,400 kg BEAM is a 17.8 million dollar project to test the use of an inflatable space habitat in micro-gravity.

A total of six astronauts are already on-board the ISS along with another US commercial cargo ship called Cygnus that has been attached to the station since March 26.

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