The International Space Station is ready to deploy its first expandable habitat. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which was delivered last month by one of Space X's rockets, will finally be inflated to its full size starting at Thursday, 5:30AM ET, according to NASA. The event will be streamed live on NASA TV.
Astronauts on the space station won't enter the habitat for another week. The module, which will inflate up to four times its size, is expected to stay attached to the ISS for two years. During this time, the astronauts will only enter it three or four times a year for a few hours to retrieve sensor data and assess its conditions. For now the BEAM is only being tested to see how the technology holds up in space.
The major advantages of expandable habitats like the BEAM, which is made by Bigelow Aerospace, are their size and weight. When it launched onboard the Space X's Dragon cargo spacecraft, the cylindrical BEAM was only 7 feet long and 7.7 feet in diameter. Once inflated to its full size, the habitat will be about 13 feet long and 10.6 feet in diameter. The BEAM also weighs 3,000 pounds. That's much lighter than the metal Unity module on the ISS, for example, which is made of aluminum and weighs more than 26,000 pounds.
The BEAM will be tested to see how well it protects against solar radiation, space debris, and extreme temperatures. If it performs well, it could open a new era of expandable habitats in space.