Space

Inflatable module pops to full size on ISS

BEAM took over seven hours to inflate
BEAM took over seven hours to inflate
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Video grid used to measure BEAM's expansion
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Video grid used to measure BEAM's expansion
Astronaut Jeff William's lettgin air into BEAM
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Astronaut Jeff William's lettgin air into BEAM
BEAM took over seven hours to inflate
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BEAM took over seven hours to inflate
BEAM at full size
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BEAM at full size
Sequence of BEAM expanding
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Sequence of BEAM expanding
Location of BEAM on the ISS
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Location of BEAM on the ISS

With the sound of popping corn, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) aboard the ISS has successfully been inflated on the second try in three days. At 4:10 pm EDT today, the experimental habitat expanded to its full size after a nearly seven-and-a-half hour operation. During this time, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams slowly fed air into the module while being monitored by mission control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Today's successful deployment follows Thursday's first attempt, in which the tightly packed fabric of the BEAM refused to expand as predicted when air was fed into it in one to five second bursts over a six hour period. Bigelow engineers speculated that this was due to the module being kept in storage for 15 months due to a delay in shipping it to the station. During this time, the fabric of the module may have settled more tightly on itself and generated more friction than anticipated.

At 9:04 am EDT, the second attempt was made after BEAM had been depressurized and the fabric allowed to relax for a day. During the deployment, Williams fed air into the module 25 times for a total of two minutes and 27 seconds. As the air was fed in, the shifting fabric let off load noises like corn popping as the module took on the shape of badly wrapped cornball.

Sequence of BEAM expanding
Sequence of BEAM expanding

In the meantime, engineers back on Earth carefully monitored BEAM's interior pressure to make sure it wasn't placing any loads on the ISS's Tranquility module, where BEAM is docked.

After BEAM reached full size, Williams then activated the module's automatic pressurization system that opened up eight interior tanks to bring the module's interior pressure up to the station's 14.7 PSI. When this was completed at about 4:35 pm EDT, mission control noticed a slight overpressure and instructed Williams to open an inspection valve in the module hatch to equalize the pressure between BEAM and the station.

BEAM will undergo a week of temperature and pressure tests before astronauts venture inside to install monitoring instruments. The module will remain attached to the ISS for two years as it is assessed for leaks, durability, and the ability to endure the temperature and radiation of space.

Source: NASA

6 comments
Recon7
Nasa sucks. All this uber conservative, hyper safety minded bobus attitude gets us nowhere. BOLDLY GO ... that is what needs to happen.. Not lame ass 5 second air burst over SIX hours? Really?
Chizzy
I've never smiled and giggled so much while watching something so boring, yet so exciting. I'm really glad it got postponed to a day when i had time to sit and watch the whole thing happen live. This is the technology that will form the majority (by volume) of the modules of the trans mars craft. From a cost to launch to size and affordability metric it's simply the most cost effective way to add habitable space to a long duration craft. I'm looking forward to future tests to see how it does in a spinning environment. If you can put these on the end of pipes, and they hold their shape, then boom! artificial gravity! Technically if they can be inflated and hold their shape on earth, then they should have no trouble holding their shape under the equivalent g load. Congratulations to the BEAM TEAM!
nickyhansard
@Recon7 I tend to agree with what you're saying in most forms of science BUT if something goes wrong up there it can kill people and cost tens of millions/years to rectify.
FábioAlvesCorrêa
I can barely have an idea about all the difficulties of the mission and all, but... look at that thing... it really doesn't look as advertised: http://www.gizmag.com/inflatable-space-station-habitat-failure/43464/pictures?thumb=true#picture4
frogola
those straps look like useless weight.can anyone tell me what they do just flapping there.
Jorel
Recon7, I have plans for a hydrogen peroxide-fueled rocket that I got in the back of Popular Mechanics magazine, and I believe I can build it with publically available Air Force surplus parts that I can get at auction for under $50,000. If I build it, will you volunteer to be the test pilot?