NASA Planning Expandable Habitat Module For Space Station
January 16, 2013

NASA Planning Expandable Habitat Module For Space Station

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

NASA announced on Wednesday that it is planning a new addition to the International Space Station that is an expandable space habitat technology.

The space agency has handed out a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which will be arriving at the station in 2015.

"Today we're demonstrating progress on a technology that will advance important long-duration human spaceflight goals," NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said in a statement. "NASA's partnership with Bigelow opens a new chapter in our continuing work to bring the innovation of industry to space, heralding cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably."

The BEAM will be launching aboard the eighth SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the station under contract by NASA. After the SpaceX Dragon capsule arrives at the station, astronauts will use the orbiting laboratory's robotic arm to install the module on the aft port on the Tranquility node.

Once the module is berthed to the Tranquility node, the station crew will activate a pressurization system to expand the structure to its full size using air stored within the packed module.

During the two-year test period, astronauts and ground-based engineers will be gathering performance data on the module, including its structural integrity and leak rate. Instruments embedded within the module will provide important insights on its response to the space environment.

"The International Space Station is a uniquely suited test bed to demonstrate innovative exploration technologies like the BEAM," William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said. "As we venture deeper into space on the path to Mars, habitats that allow for long-duration stays in space will be a critical capability. Using the station's resources, we'll learn how humans can work effectively with this technology in space, as we continue to advance our understanding in all aspects for long-duration spaceflight aboard the orbiting laboratory."

Astronauts will be periodically entering the module to gather performance data and perform inspections. Once the test period is over, the module will be jettisoned from the station, and will burn up on re-entry to Earth.