The International Space Station Just Got Roomier
At the end of May, astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) were able to install a new module to the station—by just inflating it! This new addition, known as the BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) is the first of its kind when it comes to inflatable habitat technology. Delivered to the station at the beginning of April the BEAM has deflated dimensions of 2.16 meters (7.09 feet) in length and 2.36 meters (7.75 feet) in diameter but has now grown to a whopping 4.15 meters (13.16 feet) in length and 3.2 meters (10.5 feet ) in diameter. With these dimensions, the module will provide the astronauts with 16 cubic meters (565 cubic feet) of additional space!
Image from NASA’s footage of inflating of BEAM
This one-of-a-kind module is the first new installation to the ISS since 2011 and begins NASA’s foray into expandable habitats. This kind of technology offers many advantages, one being that these kinds of modules are much lighter than those that came before. When it comes to space travel, mass is everything. The less massive the object you’re trying to transport is, the less fuel you use. The less fuel you use, the less expensive the mission is. The less expensive the mission, the more missions we can have! Not only are these modules economical, but they also offer dazzling opportunities for space exploration. In particular, NASA is looking at these modules with the hope of one day traveling to Mars. Such inflatable technology as NASA is testing with the BEAM can be used down the road to create easy-to-deploy research and living habitats for astronauts on the surface of Mars, our Moon, or wherever exploration can take us. The ISS astronauts are getting their first taste of BEAM, and the module will be at the ISS for two years as the scientists test and explore the new technology.
Image from Bigelow Aerospace artist concept of BEAM
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