BEAM entered by International Space Station crew
About a week after expansion, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was entered by NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka at 4:47 a.m. EDT (08:47 GMT) on June 6.
This first ingress by two members of the International Space Station’s Expedition 47 crew was done primarily to collect air samples and begin downloading data from the onboard sensors. The duo entered wearing headlamps and masks.
Williams told Mission Control the module looked “pristine” and reported that, while it was cold, there was no evidence of condensation on the walls.
Jessica Meir was Capcom for the hatch opening. She reported to Williams that the back of BEAM had a temperature reading of 44 degrees Fahrenheit (6.6 degrees Celsius), which was expected based on the preflight analysis.
BEAM was expanded over the course of two days. The first day, May 26, saw problems during inflation regarding higher than expected pressure readings. The module was also not expanding, despite a high pressure.
Ground teams decided to call off the rest of expansion for two days. On May 28, in a process taking some seven hours, the module was finally fully expanded to its final size of 13.2 feet (4.01 meters) long and 10.6 feet (3.23 meters) in diameter—some four times its packed size. The internal volume is about 565 cubic feet (16 cubic meters) and its mass is 3,115 pounds (1,413 kilograms).
The first ingress was to collect air samples. The two then left before coming in again to collect deployment data from sensors inside. Williams also checked to ensure the onboard air tanks, which helped pressurize the module, were empty. The hatch was then closed.
There will be two more opportunities for the crew to enter BEAM over the next couple of days to add more sensors and equipment. Each time, the hatch will be closed and sealed. After Wednesday, there is currently no timetable for more entries into the module.
Ground teams expect that BEAM will be entered between six to seven times per year. Over the next two years, sensors on board the module will measure radiation levels, micrometeorite impact as well as temperature levels.
This is the first human-rated inflatable habitat. Modules like BEAM could be used on future deep space exploration missions.
Expandable habitats are not necessarily lighter than a comparable rigid structure of a similar size. The main appeal of these modules is the fact they save space during launch and can fit into limited payload fairing sizes. Once in orbit, these modules can expand many times their packed size.
BEAM was launched to the station inside the trunk of a SpaceX Dragon capsule during the CRS-8 mission. It arrived at the outpost on April 10 and was attached to the aft port of Tranquility on April 16.
The module is part of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems division and was developed by Bigelow Aerospace.
After two years, BEAM will be depressurized and unberthed from the space station and released in such a way that it will not re-contact the outpost. Its orbit will eventually decay, causing the module to burn up in the atmosphere.
Video courtesy of NASA TV
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity.