An experimental expandable module added to the International Space Station three years ago has been cleared by NASA to remain docked to the station through to 2028.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was launched in April 2016 aboard a cargo resupply mission. The module was successfully installed and expanded in May of that year. NASA had originally planned to keep the module installed for a two-year test period after which it would be discarded.
The BEAM module has, however, exceeded expectations prompting NASA to continue to test its capabilities while using it for storage to free up volume in other modules. An initial contract extension was agreed in October and saw NASA plan to keep the module installed for at least five more years.
During a July 30 presentation at the ISS Research and Development Conference here, Nathan Wells, a BEAM instrumentation lead explained that the module had been cleared to remain on the station through to 2028. This does not yet represent a contractual extension though, merely that an engineering assessment has cleared it to remain that long.
Wells did, however, add that BEAM had become “a core facility” of the station making it likely that a contract extension will be finalised in the coming years.
NASA has continued to monitor conditions within the module including temperature and radiation. Thus far, the agency has noted no noticeable difference in the thermal performance of BEAM even with its expanded storage responsibilities. “Overall, it’s been meeting all of our expectations and beyond that,” said Wells.