NASA recently sent a very special inflatable module to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that recently made its historic landing on a drone ship out at sea. NASA now wants to affix the module to the International Space Station this weekend to begin its testing.
The inflatable module is one called Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM for short. Unlike other modules that attach to the International Space Station, BEAM will be 100% inflatable, which means it takes up significantly less storage space on a rocket, and it can be inflated to its full size for storage.
In its compact mode, the mode it came shipped to the International Space Station in, BEAM measures about 7.8 feet by 5.7 feet. When fully inflated, it will expand to a size of 12 feet by 10.5 feet, allowing astronauts to store things in its roomy 565 cubic feet interior.
For the safety of the astronauts, a robotic arm will be used to affix it to the International Space Station, rather than astronauts on a spacewalk. Astronauts will carefully monitor its air pressure, performance, and effectiveness over time to ensure that it doesn’t leak and that it can be relied on for long-distance missions.
Although it’ll be attached to the International Space Station as early as Saturday, NASA hasn’t scheduled the module to be inflated with air until sometime in May. As a result, testing on the inflatable module won’t start until then either.
Nevertheless, this is a huge jump forward in space travel technology, as it provides the opportunity to save tons of space on transport rockets. This, along with 3D printing, will allow NASA to cram as much equipment on a single rocket as possible, providing hopefully improved turnaround times for experiments that we want to know the answers to.