‘BEAM me up SpaceX!’ Bigelow’s prototype habitat loaded onto CRS-8 Dragon
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was loaded into the non-pressurized trunk of a SpaceX Dragon at Kennedy Space Center this week, in preparations for the launch of the CRS-8 mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 on April 8, 2016. It will be the tenth flight for a Dragon cargo spacecraft and the eighth flight under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract with SpaceX.
The BEAM will be transported to the International Space Station, where the station’s robotic arm will pull the BEAM out of the Dragon’s trunk and attach it to the station’s Tranquility module.
As was noted on Space News, when fully inflated, the BEAM will provide 16 cubic meters of additional volume for the station. But that doesn’t mean NASA will start using inflatable habitats right away – they still need to be tested. BEAM will undergo testing at the ISS for a minimum of two years to see how much radiation and micrometeorite protection it provides.
Besides BEAM, CRS-8 is also planning on sending up a few additional research experiments to study antibodies and protein crystal growth in microgravity.
When it launches, the flight of the CRS-8 Dragon will mark the first time that the spacecraft has been launched since the June 28, 2015, loss of the CRS-7 Dragon and the Falcon 9 v1.1 booster that launched it.
It was determined that a strut within the Falcon 9’s second stage had failed, allowing a helium tank to break loose causing an ‘over-pressure’ event.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has acquired an impressive track record. Twenty-one of the 22 flights of the rocket have successfully completed the primary objectives, and of those flights 20 out of 22 were completely successful.
NASA is hoping that inflatable habitats will be able to enable the space agency’s deep space exploration ambitions.
“The world of low-Earth orbit belongs to industry. You need to understand where we’re going. A Bigelow module may be the next thing that begins to replace some of the functions of the International Space Station. Low-Earth orbit infrastructure belongs to industry… If we don’t have a viable, vibrant low-Earth orbit infrastructure supported by them [commercial industry], we’re not getting there [Mars],” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in January of 2015.
Video courtesy of NASA Johnson Space Center
Eric Shear is a recent graduate from York University, honors bachelor in space science. Before that, Shear studied mechanical engineering at Tacoma Community College. During this time, Shear helped develop the HYDROS water-electrolysis propulsion system at Tethers Unlimited and led a microgravity experiment on the Weightless Wonder parabolic aircraft. Shear has worked for an extended period of time to both enable and promote space flight awareness. Shear agreed to contribute to SpaceFlight Insider’s efforts so that he could provide extra insight into interplanetary missions, both past and present.