Astronauts to Enter BEAM on Monday

BEAM module (Credit: NASA TV)
BEAM module (Credit: NASA TV)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — On Monday, June 6, astronaut Jeff Williams will enter the first human-rated expandable module deployed in space, a technology demonstration to investigate the potential challenges and benefits of expandable habitats for deep space exploration and commercial low-Earth orbit applications.

Williams and the NASA and Bigelow Aerospace teams working at Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston expanded the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) by filling it with air during more than seven hours of operations Saturday, May 28. The BEAM launched April 8 aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and was attached to the International Space Station’s Tranquility module about a week later.

Williams’ entry will mark the beginning of a two-year data collection process. He will take an air sample, place caps on the now closed ascent vent valves, install ducting to assist in BEAM’s air circulation, retrieve deployment data sensors and manually open the tanks used for pressurization to ensure all of the air has been released. He will then install sensors over the following two days that will be used for the project’s primary task of gathering data on how an expandable habitat performs in the thermal environment of space, and how it reacts to radiation, micrometeoroids, and orbital debris.

During BEAM’s test period, the module typically will be closed off to the rest of the space station. Astronauts will enter the module three to four times each year to collect temperature, pressure and radiation data, and to assess its structural condition. After two years of monitoring, the current plan is to jettison the BEAM from the space station to burn up on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

Expandable habitats are designed to take up less room when being launched but provide greater volume for living and working in space once expanded. This first test of an expandable module will allow investigators to gauge how well the habitat performs and specifically, how well it protects against solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space.

The BEAM is an example of NASA’s increased commitment to partnering with industry to enable the growth of the commercial use of space. The BEAM, which Bigelow Aerospace developed and built, is co-sponsored by Bigelow and NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division.

The expansion process already has provided numerous lessons learned on how soft goods interact during the dynamic event of expansion.

The module measured just over 7 feet long and just under 7.75 feet in diameter in its packed configuration. BEAM now measures more than 13 feet long and about 10.5 feet in diameter to create 565 cubic feet of habitable volume. It weighs approximately 3,000 pounds.

  • patb2009

    An issue with every space station is that condensation causes the outser surface to grow mold. It’s a lot of crew time keeping the surfaces de-gunked.

    Does anyone know if that is a detailed test objective to determine if the BEAM
    is able to resolve that issue?

  • TomDPerkins

    To be clear for other readers, you mean the inner surface of the outermost pressurized layer.

  • Stu

    Wouldn’t this be best resolved with adequate de-humidifcation and airflow? If the RH is kept low enough (right at the low-end of what is healthy for humans), there won’t be much condensation at all.

  • patb2009

    well at least in a Metal Station, the inner surface of the pressure vessel, ends up when you are in the earth’s shadow starts
    condensing. Now a pressurized textile offers the interesting option
    of having multiple layers, which have a high insulation layer.
    It’s also possible that the layers could be pumped with warm air,
    or the textiles could be treated with anti-fungals or if you keep the air
    extremely dry it could pull condensation through the fabric.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Or you could use Tide with bleach and bounce fabric softeners in the tumble cycle. And get artificial gravity to boot.

  • windbourne

    Interesting point about the mold. To be fair, fabric can be treated to retard that and I would not be surprised if ba did just that.
    However, I am a lot more interested in outgassing. Everything breaks down with energy, and radiation is such wonderfully random energy. And unlike the cans, this is many layers of different fabrics with different chemistries. Both coffins have shown that the fabric based systems hold up, but , there was no way to capture the atmosphere and see what the chemistry are. Perhaps in the future, ba will capture one and check the gassing in a 10+ year system.
    But today, beam should provide a decent testing on it.

    Btw, thinking about the mold, this will not be a good test. Nobody in there and door will be closed. Mold will likely not grow, yet, I think Pat, that you have good points about that.

  • windbourne

    Darn good question. But without ppl in there, and door closed, not likely to happen.

  • Hug Doug

    Statements have been made that inside it’s empty except for instruments to measure pressure and radiation over time, which are checked by astronauts every few months, but otherwise it remains sealed. So it is unlikely that they would be checking for mold, though I’m sure they would report it if they saw any.

  • patb2009

    depends what way the ducts flow. If they are flowing station air in there and holding to the same humidity as the station main volume, or if you open the door often enough.

  • patb2009

    if you had a small sensor package you could check the outgassing. I’d hope the ISS ECLSS team has thought hard about this. They are pretty smart, i know a few of them. I’ll ask at Colorado Springs.

    As for Mold, it may not take that much humidity to cause it. Certainly if they were checking for condensation on the first trip in they must be concerned in some way.

    It’d be awesom eif Bigelow cracks the mold problem

  • windbourne

    Sensors will not cut it. You want to take air samples and run them through chemical analysis. These fabrics will very likely give off some forms of chemicals esp once hit with gamma.

  • TomDPerkins

    This seems simple enough to do.

    There is an impermeable layer which is pressurized on one side, the interior–there must be. Quilt onto that a semi permeable layer. Blow between those layers, temperature controlled but dehumidified air, permitting the dry temp controlled air to diffuse through the semi-permeable surface. Shouldn’t 1/10inW pressure be more than enough to prevent condensation, at least on the harder to access inner surface of the hab?

  • duheagle

    Gammas don’t interact very much with thin, low-average atomic weight materials. I’d think you’d get a lot more interaction with thicker, metallic station module walls.

  • windbourne

    U do get more interaction. However, with the cans, it results in lower-energy radiation being scattered around. And yes, it will cause some chemical reactions in that 1 or more bonds will be broken. If on the surface, there will be Al or Li floating. Not a big deal.
    Otoh, the fabrics have a wide variety of chemicals, which will have differing interaction.

  • Paul451

    Humans are the source of the humidity. The dehumidifiers in the ECLSS system cool the air and condense water, collecting it for the liquid waste-recycling system. But if there’s another surface as cold as the dehumidifiers, and much larger, it doesn’t matter how high your airflow is.