Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have begun converting the experimental Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) into long-term storage for the station. Commander Randy Bersnik and Flight Engineers Paolo Nespoli and Joe Acaba of the Expedition 53 crew began retrofitting the privately owned module on November 20.
The Expedition 53 crew spent the week clearing BEAM of excess gear including, the inflation tanks and dynamic sensors that were used during the module’s initial expansion. The excess gear that is no longer useful to the crew or station will be packed into the Cygnus resupply craft. With over 2,000 kilograms (4,000 pounds) of disposable cargo aboard, the Cygnus craft will then detach from the ISS and perform a destructive reentry.
BEAM was launched aboard the eighth Space Commercial Resupply Service mission by SpaceX in 2016. The module was expanded to its operational capacity in May 2016. Although originally slated to be jettisoned following a two-year test and validation period, positive performance results have motivated a change in plans. Following its retrofitting, the BEAM will be used for storage as well as being available to Bigelow Aerospace as a test-bed for new technology demonstrations.
NASA has estimated that the BEAM will have the capacity to stow between 109 and 130 Cargo Transfer Bags. As the bags account for around 0.53 cubic meters (1.87 cubic feet) of volume, BEAM could free up around 3.7 to 4.4 International Standard Payload Racks. In an environment where each and every square meter cost millions of dollars, this is no small achievement.
In addition to their continued presence on ISS, Bigelow Aerospace has also recently announced a joint venture with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to create and launch an inflatable near-lunar habitat. The inflatable habitat (B330) will be one of the first payloads to be launched aboard ULA’s ultra-heavy lift rocket, the Vulcan.
Image Credit: NASA