Bigelow tests inflatable space habitat

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The BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) expandable habitat made by Bigelow Aerospace will be launched in its inflated form aboard the next SpaceX Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on April 8, 2016. It will be tested for two years in space while attached to the ISS.

BEAM is an experimental program developed under a NASA contract to test and validate expandable habitat technology. BEAM is a fraction of the size of a larger B330 inflatable proposal that could provide habitats on the moon, Mars or during space missions. Bigelow said the tests of the smaller unit will serve “as a vital pathfinder for validating the benefits of expandable habitats”.

Testing will validate the technology of the expandable habitat, including launch and deployment, folding and packing techniques and radiation protection capabilities. The duration of the testing will also demonstrate design performance such as thermal, structural, mechanical durability, and long-term leak performance, etc.

The BEAM test article will be in a packed configuration in the trunk of the Dragon spacecraft that which will dock with the ISS. The Canadarm will position the inflatable unit to one of the docking ports of the ISS. After inflation for the testing program, the unit will be monitored for pressure, temperature, radiation protection, and micro-meteoroid/debris impact detection. Astronauts will periodically enter the BEAM to record data and perform inspections of the module.

April 1, 2016

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