Washington, April 13 (IANS) The first expandable habitats for astronauts that may help set the design of deep space habitats including on Mars is set to be installed to the International Space Station (ISS) on April 16.
Expandable habitats are designed to take up less room on a rocket 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 overall and how well it protects against solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space.
Once the test period is over, BEAM will be released from the space station and will burn up during its descent through Earth’s atmosphere.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will be attached to the station’s Tranquility module over a period of about four hours, the US space agency said in a statement.
Using the robotic arm, ground controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will remove BEAM from the unpressurised trunk of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.
NASA astronauts aboard the station will secure BEAM using common berthing mechanism controls.
BEAM was launched aboard Dragon spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 8.
At the end of May, the module will be expanded to nearly five times its compressed size of 7 feet in diameter by 8 feet in length to roughly 10 feet in diameter and 13 feet in length.
Astronauts will first enter the habitat about a week after expansion and, during a two-year test mission, will return to the module for a few hours several times a year to retrieve sensor data and assess conditions.
The BEAM project is co-sponsored by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division and Bigelow Aerospace.