A joint project between NASA and the startup company Bigelow Aerospace, BEAM aims to test ride inflatable modules, in the hopes of eventually developing them as a platform for human deep space exploration, or ground shelters on missions to the Moon or Mars. Expandable habitats are lightweight and easy to store, which distinguish them as promising candidates for future astronaut digs.
But before we start buying timeshares for inflatable space houses, mission leads need to work out the kinks in the basic concept with BEAM. The plan for the upcoming deployment of the habitat is laid out in this short NASA animation, released Thursday morning.
After the Dragon capsule has docked, BEAM will be transferred to the rear port on the Tranquility node by the station's robotic arm, where it will be inflated, pressurized, and decorated with a suite of sensors by the crew.
"This will be the first time an expandable habitat has been deployed on station, so the procedure will take place slowly to closely observe the expansion process and to maintain the safety of the crew and the station," according to the video's narrator.
Once fully inflated, the module will measure 12 feet in length and 10.5 feet in diameter—a cozy little nook for the ISS astronauts. BEAM is expected to be attached to the ISS for a period of at least two years, during which time it will be evaluated for thermal, structural, impact, and radiation resistance, as well as mechanical durability and long-term leak performance.
If the results indicate that inflatable habitats are safe and effective, Bigelow plans to move ahead to deploy even larger pop-tents in space.