The ability to expand and shift habitable spaces in space travel is going to be a critical part of the equation moving forward, and NASA is preparing to take a major step in that direction.
The U.S. space agency plans to test a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) on the International Space Station. The BEAM is, essentially, an expandable, inflatable habitat that can be attached to the station, essentially adding a whole new room with (relative) ease. If the technology pans out, NASA believes it can greatly decrease the amount of transport volume for future space missions, by basically leaving these spaces in “storage” until they’re needed.
The big selling point: These modules are lightweight and require minimal payload volume on a rocket (meaning they’re a whole lot cheaper to launch). The tech also provides a “varying degree” of protection from solar and cosmic radiation, space debris, atomic oxygen, ultraviolet radiation and other elements of the space environment. This first module should give NASA a great chance to test just how much protection they provide in a live environment.
The module will be sent to the ISS in an upcoming resupply mission, and installed for a two-year test period. Throughout the process, the “inflatable” will expand from 5x8 feet to a size of approximately 12x10 feet, as it’s synced up with the main station’s atmospherics.