Bigelow Expandable Activity Module

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Bigelow Expandable Activity Module
BEAM mockup.jpg
Full-scale mock-up of BEAM at Johnson Space Center
Station statistics
Launch date: April 8, 2016, 20:43 UTC[1]
Launch vehicle: Falcon 9 full thrust
(SpaceX CRS-8)
Docked: April 16, 2016, 09:36 UTC[2]
Tranquility aft
Undocked: Planned: 2018
Mass: 1,413.0 kg (3,115.1 lb)[3]
Length: 4.01 m (13.2 ft)[4]
Diameter: 3.23 m (10.6 ft)[4]
Living volume: 16.0 m3 (565 cu ft)[4]

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is an experimental expandable space station module developed by Bigelow Aerospace, under contract to NASA, for testing as a temporary module on the International Space Station (ISS) from 2016 to 2018. It arrived at the ISS on April 10, 2016,[5] was berthed to the station on April 16, and was expanded and pressurised on May 28, 2016.

Bigelow plans to build a second BEAM module as an airlock for the Bigelow Commercial Space Station.

History

Completed BEAM flight unit at the Bigelow Aerospace facility in North Las Vegas

NASA originally considered the idea of inflatable habitats in the 1960s, and developed the TransHab inflatable module concept in the late 1990s. The TransHab project was cancelled by Congress in 2000,[6][7][8] and Bigelow Aerospace purchased the rights to the patents developed by NASA to pursue private space station designs.[9] In 2006 and 2007, Bigelow launched two demonstration modules to Earth orbit, Genesis I and Genesis II.[10][11]

NASA re-initiated analysis of expandable module technology for a variety of potential missions beginning in early 2010.[12][13] Various options were considered, including procurement from commercial provider Bigelow Aerospace, for providing what in 2010 was proposed to be a torus-shaped storage module for the International Space Station. One application of the toroidal BEAM design was as a centrifuge demo preceding further developments of the NASA Nautilus-X multi-mission exploration concept vehicle.[14] In January 2011, Bigelow projected that the BEAM module could be built and made flight-ready 24 months after a build contract was secured.[15]

On December 20, 2012, NASA awarded Bigelow Aerospace a US$17.8 million contract to construct the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module under NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Program.[16][17] Sierra Nevada Corporation built the $2 million Common Berthing Mechanism under a 16-month firm-fixed-price contract awarded in May 2013.[18] NASA plans made public in mid-2013 called for a 2015 delivery of the module to the ISS.[18] During a press event on March 12, 2015, at the Bigelow Aerospace facility in North Las Vegas, the completed ISS flight unit, compacted and with two Canadarm2 grapple fixtures attached, was displayed for the media.[19]

Status

Progression of expansion of BEAM

In the Spring of 2015 the BEAM was scheduled for deployment on the next available ISS transport vehicle, which was the SpaceX CRS-8, then scheduled for launch in September 2015. Due to a rocket failure during the SpaceX CRS-7 launch in June 2015, the delivery of the BEAM was delayed.[20][21] Successful delivery aboard the SpaceX CRS-8 was completed on April 10, 2016.[22] [23] On April 16, British astronaut Tim Peake extracted BEAM from the CRS-8's trunk using the Canadarm2, and installed it on the aft port of Tranquility node.[24]

The first attempt at module inflation took place on May 26, 2016, and it failed with air pressure rising exponentially with minimal expansion. The attempt was called off after two hours. The failure to expand and unfold is thought to have been the result of the unanticipated 10-month delay in module inflation, which may have caused the fabric layers to stick together.[25] The module was expanded and pressurised on Saturday, May 28 over the course of 7 hours reaching 127 inches in width and 57 in length at normal ISS station pressure, one inch short of its anticipated length. The decision was taken by the crew to override safety concerns and perform a final 10 minute burst of gas to achieve its design length.[26] The module will be monitored for two years.

Objectives

The BEAM is an experimental program in an effort to test and validate expandable habitat technology.[27] If BEAM performs favorably, it could lead to development of expandable habitation structures for future crews traveling in deep space.[28] The two-year demonstration period will: [27][29]

  • Demonstrate launch and deployment of a commercial inflatable module. Implement folding and packaging techniques for inflatable. Implement a venting system for inflatable shell during ascent to ISS.
  • Determine radiation protection capability of inflatable structures.
  • Demonstrate design performance of commercial inflatable structure like thermal, structural, mechanical durability, long term leak performance, etc.
  • Demonstrate safe deployment and operation of an inflatable structure in a flight mission.

At the end of BEAM's mission, it will be removed from the ISS and burn up during reentry.[30]

Characteristics

BEAM in the process of being moved to the rear port of Tranquility in April 2016

BEAM is composed of two metal bulkheads, an aluminum structure, and multiple layers of soft fabric with spacing between layers, protecting an internal restraint and bladder system;[31] it has neither windows nor internal power.[32] The module is scheduled to be expanded about a month after being attached to the space station. It will be inflated from its packed dimensions of 2.16 m (7.1 ft) long and 2.36 m (7.7 ft) in diameter to its pressurized dimensions of 4.01 m (13.2 ft) long and 3.23 m (10.6 ft) in diameter.[4] The module has a mass of 1,413.0 kg (3,115.1 lb),[3] and its interior pressure will be 14.7 pounds per square inch (1 atm), the same as inside of the ISS.[33]

BEAM's internal dimensions provide 16 m3 (565 cu ft) of volume where a crew member will enter the module three to four times per year to collect sensor data, perform microbial surface sampling, conduct periodic change-out of the radiation area monitors, and inspect the general condition of the module.[34][31] The hatch to the module will otherwise remain closed.[35] Its interior is described as being "a large closet with padded white walls", with various equipment and sensors attached to two central supports.[36]

Radiation shielding

The flexible Kevlar-like materials of construction are proprietary.[37][38] The multiple layers of flexible fabric and closed-cell vinyl polymer foam[39] in the BEAM structural shell are expected to provide impact protection (see Whipple shield) as well as radiation protection, but model calculations need to be validated by actual measurements.[31]

In a 2002 NASA study, it was suggested that materials that have high hydrogen contents, such as polyethylene, can reduce primary and secondary radiation to a greater extent than metals, such as aluminum.[40] Vinyl polymer may also be used in laboratories and other applications for radiation shield garments.[41]

BCSS airlock

As of 2013, Bigelow mentioned a concept to build a second BEAM module for use as an airlock on its planned Bigelow Commercial Space Station. The module's inflatable nature would provide room for up to three crew or tourists to spacewalk simultaneously, compared with a maximum of two that can operate outside the ISS.[42]

Gallery

See also

  • B330, an inflatable space habitat

References

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External links