After suffering a failure to expand several days ago, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is fully inflated and ready for use on the International Space Station (ISS).
The module was developed for NASA by Bigelow Aerospace, and is the first inflatable module of its kind to ever be tested in space. The fully inflated habitat expands to 13 feet long, by 10.5 feet wide (it was compressed to 7 feet by 8 feet for transit). Astronauts attempted to inflate the module last week, though the process stalled and NASA aborted as a safety precaution. It took astronauts more than seven hours to fully inflate the habitat, and the system made “popcorn-like” popping sounds during the process.
So, what was the problem with the first attempt? NASA says readings indicated higher-than-expected pressure inside the module during inflation, which was likely caused by the fabric layers in the capsule sticking together.
With the test a success, it’s a huge win for the future of space exploration. Inflatable modules are lighter and easier to transport than metal (duh), and with the BEAM now fully pressurized and working as advertised, it means this tech certainly has some promise.