The International Space Station will enjoy a little bit more real estate in the near future if everything goes according to plan, This is due to the utilization of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), an innovative, inflatable habitat that will be attached to the space station today.
The BEAM module special due to its structure. Utilizing a kevlar-like weave, the BEAM module is extremely lightweight, portable and very easy to maintain. NASA has also stated that decommissioning the expandable modules is very simple since its fabric-like structure would just burn up during re-entry, reports CNET.
Even its metal components, which are created out of aluminum, are also designed to simply burn up once it enters the Earth's atmosphere.
Preparations for today's test are already underway. ISS crew members have already installed computer cables and other pertinent hardware leading up to the test date. During the test the expandable module will be filled with breathable air, fully expanding to about 10 feet by 13 feet in diameter. Once fully inflated, it will take about a week before the ISS crew is able to enter the habitat.
According to CNN, NASA is planning to have one ISS crew member enter the BEAM module every three or four months to run a number of tests, including pressure analysis, radiation testing, as well as how the expandable structure is adapting to the otherwise harsh conditions of open space.
The BEAM experiment on the ISS is set to run for two years. However, NASA has also stated that the module could last far longer, up to about 5 years or more.
If the BEAM experiment does succeed, the modules could one day be utilized for deep space exploration missions, such as the planned manned Mars expeditions that are scheduled within the next couple of decades. NASA BEAM Deputy Manager Steve Munday asserted that the modules could easily be used as surface habitats.
"Just as in the movie, 'The Martian,' only without the catastrophic explosion that nearly killed Matt Damon. Expandable habitats have the advantage of being small, taking up less volume on launch vehicles and in transit and then become big later, expanding to full volume in space or even after being pre-deployed to the surface of Mars," he said.