Astronauts Open BEAM for Tests

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

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — BEAM, the new expandable module attached to the International Space Station, was opened up today for tests and equipment checks. The Expedition 49 crew also explored eating right in space, adapting to new technology and studied a variety of other life science and physics research.

Flight Engineer Kate Rubins opened up and entered the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module this afternoon. She temporarily installed gear inside BEAM for a test to measure the loads and vibrations the module experiences. Rubins started her day with a performance test on a mobile tablet device then videotaped her observations of the living conditions aboard the space station.

Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi started an 11-day run today to document his meals while wearing a monitor that will take water samples and measure his breathing. The ENERGY experiment will help doctor’s understand metabolism in space and ensure astronauts are properly nourished to maintain the energy required for a long-term mission. Onishi is also continuing to set up the Group Combustion fuel burning study and checked for pressure leaks in the experiment gear.

In the Russian side of the orbital laboratory, Commander Anatoly Ivanishin resumed studying charged particle systems trapped in a magnetic field. He also participated in a pair of Earth photography experiments observing how natural and man-made disasters including industrial activities affect the land and sea.



  • JamesG

    This piece would be a lot more funny if Bigalow module were named “BEAN”.

  • windbourne

    Just thinking about this.
    Nasa asked for ideas of what to replace beam. Now, there are 2 companies that want in there.
    Seems like with the sizes of those 2 that nasa should replace beam and leonardo. The 2 new ones should then split cargo between the 2. Likewise, focus on turning these 2 new ones into living spaces, since lab is trivial to do.

  • patb2009

    1) A larger Beam, where you could do some serious Zero-G gymnastics would be awesome.

    2) An upgrade of the existing BEAM with windows in the module. It’s a hard engineering challenge, but, being able to see outside, means they could replace the cupola with large BEAM modules.

    3) A BEAM module designed to support assembly of a spacecraft. If you could send up a spacecraft in flat packs assemble it on ISS and unzip the module to release the spacecraft. That would be amazing… Sort of an inflatable garage for spacecraft.

  • windbourne

    The ba330 is 10x the size of beam.

  • Their TransHab (BA330) module does all those things. Bigelow needs to get a customer for their bread-and-butter product. They need to get sales of the BA330 going and then lock down an assembly line to pump them out.

  • JamesG

    “Pump them out”. I see what you did there.

    The problem is that the modules themselves are cheap compared to their launch costs. And the cost of all the associated power and life support systems. And the cost to launch the people up to it. And the insurance and red tape costs of all of the above.

    There just isn’t any existing demand that will get any investors to go that far out on a limb on a speculative high-risk venture when there are lots of sure-bet alternatives. Not when your average luxury hotel on the ground is pushing a billion dollars to build and where a dinky little sub-orbital plane can soak up a hundred million with not much to show for it.

    And the short-term conceivable demand is what? A dozen? Total?

  • Yes I DID! 🙂

    Their task certainly isn’t easy. If they want a REALLY successful company, they need to position themselves as the systems integrator (general contractor) and operations manager of their space stations with enough subs to fill out the modules/stations. They need to have a complete station portfolio: power sub, life support sub, resupply deal(s) with launch/capsule companies, crew transport deals, standard experiment racks available, ground operations infrastructure, deals to have 24/7 space based data transmission, etc.

    Then on top of that, they need to be able to integrate the national capabilities of the governments that contract them: ground ops crews, national lift capability, training regimens for national astronauts, science integration support, etc.

    They have to get to that first customer though. Right now they have an empty shell attached to ISS, that ain’t gonna cut it for much longer.

  • windbourne

    BA is NOT about being a Hotel.
    They are about being a new space station and then lunar colony.
    And if NASA goes with BA, which I think that they will, will enable BA to get moving towards building space stations, lunar habitats, perhaps even mars transport and habitat.

    In the short term, I think that if NASA agrees, BA will build 1-3 BA-330s. THEN, with 1 attached and then outfitted slowly for living condititions, it will be only a couple of years before they have everything tested and read to go for sending up multiple BA-330s.

  • windbourne

    well, it has to go for another 1.5 years.

  • Robert G. Oler

    A reasonable goal would be to make something useful of BEAM

  • JamesG

    A lot of BA’s marketing stick is about space tourism. That means space hotels, whether they operate them or a customer does is irrelevant from a production perspective.

    NASA has no where and no budget to put any BA-anythings anywhere, except maybe a warehouse somewhere. There is a ton of work left to certify a BA-330 for attachment to the ISS, none of which is budgeted, and certainly the impact of it on the rest of the systems and the reboost requirements haven’t. It an’t never gonna happen.


  • JamesG

    And a very small one at that.

    BA isn’t anywhere near big enough to be a prime systems integrator on as big a project as a spacestation, at least not yet. Their best, probably ONLY bet for salvation, is to fight hard to make sure that their inflatable is chosen by whomever wins the next big MSF contract, be it Lunar, ARM, or some Mars-ish mission. If any ever happens.

    Sadly, if BA wants to stay in business long enough to see the above happen, they need to find more mundane terrestrial applications for their tech to make money to fund their own station.

  • JamesG

    Canadarm volleyball?

    Fill it and a off loaded Cygnus (or any other ISS freighter) with plants, critters, an any other gravity experiments you can think of, and attach the two with a tether. After release (and moving to a safe distance/orbit) spin up the Cygnus and there you go, a “free” long term artificial gravity lab.

  • It certainly won’t be easy, but how else do they get into long term profitability? Selling inflatable shells isn’t a business that will go very far, especially if they last like 20 years each. I imagine Robert Bigelow knows his strength isn’t in building properties, it’s in running them. If he wants to run them, sadly he has to build them himself, but that also means he gets to pre-vet all of his subcontractors going forward.

    The terrestrial path is certainly a way to keep the doors open, but I doubt it would really further their space goals. The subsystems and integration problems are so vastly different, that I’d take that move as a sign the company is on its last leg.

    The really frustrating thing about BEAM and each of these businesses is that each finish line only allows you to move onto the next starting line. It’s a treadmill that has no end.

  • JamesG

    Yeah, that is the big problem with the sub-contractor and specialty, “custom”, hardware/experiment fabrication vendor racket (which is what Bigalow has fallen into), Yeah the per contract money looks good, but there is no residual or ongoing revenues, and so you have to scratch and hope for the next contract, grant, or SBIR award. Lots run that way and creates both a lot of churn in the industry and price/cost inflation to anything labeled “aerospace” or “sciency”.

  • Yeah, when I’ve looked at business opportunities, I’ve always tried to steer clear of the “SBIR-house” model. It seems like free money, but the “customer” is fickle and there’s no real growth path there. But, I’m all for multiple revenue streams, and I think Bigelow should just do what all the other primes do: underbid to win contracts and then make up for it with the 30+ year service contracts!

  • JamesG

    Yeah but BA only has one “core competency” with which to win contracts, and there isn’t much demand for inflatable space pressurized modules. Which is why I suggest they strain their brain cells to find applications for what ever tech and mfg. processes might have application in larger (actual) markets while waiting for NASA and the rest of their Space Cadets customers to get ready to build space habitats. It might be a long wait…

  • windbourne

    James, there is VERY LITTLE from BA about space hotels.
    They continue to target NATIONS. They know that space hotel will not produce a viable business by itself (at least not at first).

    And considering that NASA did BEAM, I’m guessing that they will happily do a BA-330, esp. once BEAM checks out.

  • And that’s fundamentally why we’ve been stuck with the NASA/contractor model for so long. Unless you are a billionaire and willing to risk your own money for possibly zero return (Andrew Beal?) then no sane company would get into the manned space business. Even now, the “commercial” space companies need a lot of NASA MONEY, facilities and technical advice to get their “commercial” endevours going. NASA is trying to help those companies now, but it’s still a tough business when NASA is the only real customer.

  • windbourne

    It is.
    It is a test to see what will happen in space.
    If it does great for 2 years, then NASA will likely upgrade it to the BA-330.
    That is a VERY reasonable goal, esp. since the BEAM is only 33 m^3 while the BA-330 is 330 m^3.

    And once a BA-330 is hooked up, they can slowly convert it into living quarters while testing out the various parts.

  • windbourne

    If all they did was space stations, it would be a real problem for them.
    BUT, they are looking to put units on the moon and mars.

  • Robert G. Oler

    they need to use BEAM to work out the issues concerning how to “fit” out a larger module…that part of the process is still not well understood in my view

  • When do you honestly expect them to get those contracts? They can probably get a ISS-related contract in 2 years or so, a lunar orbit contract in 5 years and a surface Mars in 20-30 years. That’s exactly 3 contracts that NASA would pay for over 30 years. They need more revenue on a shorter timeline than that.

  • windbourne

    Beam is way too small. You are not going to put kitchen, bath, life support for air and liquids, electrical, etc.
    Otoh, with a ba330 in place, loaded with some storage, sleeping area, perhaps life support , etc they can then add extra stuff while adding to the iss another 1/3 volume for crew living quarters.

  • Robert G. Oler

    there are things it could be outfitted to do…and learning how to do the outfitting is essential

  • windbourne

    Okay. What can be outfitted on beam, that can not be done on ba330?

  • Robert G. Oler

    I suspect nothing but there is no BA330 to practice on.

    right now Bigelow has no idea of the cost or the man hours (person hours) or even how to outfit a module in zero g. how to ship the stuff up so the stuff can go through hatches, etc etc. practicing would be good and useful

  • windbourne

    First off, BA has MULTIPLE BA-330s on the ground. And they have MULTIPLE simulations for putting on things.
    Secondly, the BEAM is like a 10x10x10 area. IOW, there is no room to put anything major in there.
    third, the BEAM does not have the center truss. With the BA-330, it does.

    So, the Beam is supposed to be discarded in 2018. IOW, 1.5 years. NASA is askign what to replace it with. By putting a BA-330 up there, it would be possible to add all these things over 6-12 months, and convert it from a large empty room to a regular space station on its own. Interestingly, that can be pulled off in 2 years, and put into a different orbit for use as a private space station. Then a new BA-330 gets added to the original and to the ISS.

    However, like our rockets, we need to have an alternative going. It makes sense to throw away leonardo and put in another companies units to replace it. Basically, like COTS, we need to have multiple companies develop private space stations, starting at the ISS.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I am not oppossed to putting a 330 up there…but 1) simulations are not the real thing particularly with Zero ge and 2) someone has to pay for the 330 and I dont see that yet.

    I can think of things to do with 10-10X10 RGO

  • windbourne

    I suspect that nasa will come to a deal with BA on the ba330.
    Keep in mind that nasa wants private space stations, as well as human launch, and cargo launch. They have already shown that they are willing to spend money on these areas iff it helps them. And adding 33% more volume to the iss for 70-100 million is cheap.

    In fact, it is possible that iss’s best use may be sending units up there and then outfitting them at the station. This way before sending the units elsewhere they are full tested.