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.