NASA and a US space technology firm plan to launch an expandable habitat module to the International Space Station this year that will result in additional space accessible by astronauts aboard the ISS.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, leverages key innovations in lightweight and compact materials, departing from a traditional rigid metallic structure, NASA said.
In its packed configuration aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft launched on a Falcon 9 rocket, the module will measure approximately 8 feet in diameter.
Once attached to the space station’s Tranquility Node and after undergoing a series of hardware validations, the module will be deployed, resulting in an additional 565 cubic feet of volume - about the size of a large family camping tent - accessible by astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory.
Expandable habitats could be a new way to dramatically increase the amount of volume available to astronauts while also enhancing protection against radiation and physical debris, said NASA which is launching the module in collaboration with Bigelow Aerospace.
“We’re fortunate to have the space station to demonstrate potential habitation capabilities like BEAM,” said Jason Crusan, director of Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Once BEAM is attached to the Tranquility Node, the space station crew will perform initial systems checks before deploying the habitat.
During the BEAM’s minimum two-year test period, crews will routinely enter to take measurements and monitor its performance to help inform designs for future habitat systems.