Bigelow’s BEAM Could Stay on ISS Longer, See Greater Use

BEAM was attached to the International Space Station (ISS) last year for a two-year test of inflatable module technology. At present, it’s not being used by the crew, but the company’s Tweet hints at possible uses and a longer mission.

SpaceNews has a bit more information:

In a statement to SpaceNews Jan. 18, company founder Robert Bigelow said more details about any agreement with NASA about extended use of BEAM would be released at a later date. “We are excited that BEAM may serve multiple uses that could extend its time attached to station well beyond the original two-year expected period,” he said. “We will be happy to provide more specifics as this process develops shortly.”

NASA spokeswoman Cheryl Warner said Jan. 18 that the agency was still in discussions with Bigelow about “next steps” for BEAM. “The BEAM demonstration is providing valuable data regarding how the materials and an expandable structure perform in the space environment,” she said. “We are in discussions with Bigelow Aerospace to evaluate the next steps for the module.”

Robert Bigelow has previously suggested there was commercial interest in the module. As a NASA press conference in April 2016 prior to the launch of BEAM, he said there were four different groups, both countries and companies, interested in flying experiments in BEAM. “We’re hoping that, maybe in half a year or something, we can get permission from NASA to accommodate these people in some way,” he said then.

The current plan is to detach the BEAM from its berthing port in 2018 and destroy the module in Earth’s atmosphere. That will free up the port for other uses.

NASA issued a request for information last year about commercial modules that could attached at that port and at other locations on the space station. The agency hopes the new modules could form the basis of a permanent commercial space station once ISS is decommissioned, which is scheduled for 2024.

It’s unlikely that any of the commercial modules would be ready to fly by the time the original BEAM experiment is scheduled to end. So, there would be time available to both extend the module’s time on orbit and use it experiments.


  • JamesG

    That’s pretty cool. The Axium guys will not be pleased.

  • This was my original proposal for NASA and the BEAM.

  • Douglas Messier

    I doubt it. BEAM is too small and lacks the capabilities to be a permanent module. This would be an extension until something better is available for the Node 2 docking port. Axiom wouldn’t be ready to fly next year, so a BEAM extension won’t directly affect their plans.

    Bigelow has proposed attaching a B330 to the station, but I don’t think it would be attached where BEAM is now. I don’t think there’s enough room at that part of the station to accommodate something as large as the B330.

    Also remember that ports other than the Node 2 one are available as long as the company replaced the port they are using with one at the other end of their module.

  • Nathan Koga

    Yeah, the radiators and the FGB solar arrays (mostly stowed) severely limit what can be placed at Node 3 aft where BEAM is. PMA-3 on the end of the module just barely clears the radiator’s movement range as-is.

  • P.K. Sink

    Hi Nathan…anyone who hasn’t seen your awesome artwork should check it out 🙂

  • Paul451

    It’s a little frustrating that astronauts always cluster in the centre of BEAM for photo-ops. Combined with the black stripes it greatly reduces the apparent internal size of the module. (Both width and length.)

    I don’t think I’ve seen a photo taken diagonally across the interior, nor one of an astronaut at the actual back of the module. And I’ve only seen one photo where astronauts have even their legs outside the central truss.

  • Hug Doug

    Axiom wasn’t going after that berthing port anyway. They are interested in Harmony Forward.

  • Hug Doug
  • Paul451

    I’m not sure what point you are addressing.

  • windbourne

    It would be interesting if Axion and Bigelow can be pair and then attached to a port. I suspect that both are going to be modified over time for living quarters.

  • Hug Doug

    Astronaut at the end of the BEAM and legs not in core. And the lower left image on the “ingress” set is basically a diagonal shot. BEAM is not very big.

  • JamesG

    But Bigalow can offer customers space on board the ISS *today*, and can claim literal years of on-orbit experience. Its going to make landing investors and customers that much harder for them. It puts Axion in the lee of Bigelow’s sails, so to speak…

  • Paul451

    Ah, then no. That’s not what I meant.

    The astronaut in the centre two shots is not at the actual end. That end-cup is a metre or so deep. I meant you never see an astronaut next to the cup, outside the truss-frame, at the very end of the module.

    And diagonal, I meant a shot from inside the module, corner to opposite corner. The last shot comes close, but you can see by the rail to the right of frame that the photographer is still inside the central truss, not against the wall of the module.

    The type of shots taken, combined with the line markings on the walls and that end cup, make it look much shorter and narrower than it is. (The actual walls are a good metre of so beyond either side of the central frame. But is looks like the inside is a narrow tube, rather than a spherical shape.)

  • Hug Doug

    The lower left and lower right images in the ingress set – the astronauts are in the “cup” area. The one on the lower right is actually “sitting” within it. Click on the image, it opens full sized in a new tab, you’ll see what I mean.

    I’m not sure you’d get a better idea of the size from a diagonal picture from within the module. It is fairly small.

  • Paul451

    It’s over 3m wide, and 4m long.

    How big is the room you’re in right now?

  • therealdmt

    I always figured they wouldn’t just dump it.

    It may be small, but there’s a LOT you could do with it. For example, something along these lines could be cool:

  • Hug Doug

    Those are its external dimensions. Its internal dimensions are approximately 2x2x4 meters, it has a pressurized volume of 16 cubic meters.

  • Hug Doug

    Dug around a bit and found a video of the ingress, where they have a video camera inside BEAM and are moving around, from 1:08 to 1:50 you can get a feel for the size of it.

    A few neat pictures in the NSF thread.

  • Paul451

    The video shows my point. When the camera is against the rails of the central truss, there’s a lot of gap between the rails and the walls, which is not apparent in the photos because of the optical illusion created by the black lines. And when the astronaut is working in the “cup”, when he “sits” on the edge, he reaches his full torso length, with arms slightly above his head, to reach the back of the “cup”.

    The photos give a deeply false impression of the size of the BEAM. Making it look much smaller than it is.

  • Paul451

    You forgot the mirrored ceiling.

  • Hug Doug

    It is still pretty small. Just eyeballing it, from a rail to a wall is about the same distance, perhaps a bit less, as it is from one rail to another.

  • Paul451

    from a rail to a wall is about the same distance, perhaps a bit less, as it is from one rail to another.

    Or nearly three times the apparent width in the photos. Which was my original point… 12 posts ago.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    McAfee does not like that website. You may want to find out why and correct it.

  • You mean that crazy guy that lives in South America?

    Dude, it’s a list of links. Firefox parses it just fine.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    No McAfee is the anti-virus software organisation. It runs a black list of sites. Somehow your site is on the blacklist.

  • That’s funny. I thought they went out of business years ago.

    Regardless, I’m not going to W3C my short list of pdf links.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    McAfee in now owned by Intel.

  • I don’t do much IT anymore but when I do, the very first thing I do is uninstall McAfee. What a difference that makes!

    Format often is my motto. Usually I just toss in an entirely new (used) hard drive. They can be found almost anywhere.

  • therealdmt

    Good call!

  • windbourne

    it is nice work.