NASA to Attempt BEAM Inflation on Saturday

BEAM attached to the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)
BEAM attached to the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

NASA and Bigelow Aerospace had a press conference this afternoon about the failed effort to fully expand the BEAM module attached to the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday.

The Problem

The module only partially inflated as air was pumped into it. Air pressure was supposed to be reduced as the habitat expanded; instead, it built up to higher levels than planned.

The concern is that inflating the module with too much force could impart excessive loads on the space station, causing damage to the orbiting facility. So, NASA is being very careful about the inflation process.

The Diagnosis

After the inflation effort was stopped on Thursday, BEAM expanded to a limited degree with no additional air being pumped into it. Based on this development, engineers believe there is probably nothing fundamentally wrong with the module.

BEAM was stored in a compressed state before the inflation procedure on Thursday. Engineers believe that fabric friction is preventing the module’s full expansion.

The Treatment

Engineers will deflate BEAM today in an effort to relax the fabric. ISS astronauts will attempt to inflate the module again on Saturday. NASA officials expressed high confidence that the procedure will work.

The second inflation attempt will start at 9 a.m. EDT. NASA Television coverage will begin coverage at 8:45 a.m.

What Happens Next?

If the module is inflated properly, astronauts will perform a series of procedures before opening the hatch and entering BEAM. The lengthiest one is an 80-hour leak check to make sure the module is holding pressure.

Astronauts were scheduled to enter the module next Thursday to install sensors that will measure how well BEAM performs during its two-year stay on ISS. Due to the delay in inflating the structure, that procedure is being postponed to a later date.

If the inflation process doesn’t work on Saturday, astronauts will deflate BEAM once again. A partially inflated module could interfere with external robotic work scheduled for next week. The earliest a third attempt could be made to inflate BEAM is Thursday.