BEAM Opens for Tests, Crew Checks Body Shape

Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Thomas Pesquet are pictured inside BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. Pesquet is also wearing the experimental SkinSuit. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — BEAM was opened for a short time Thursday so the crew could install sensors inside the expandable module. The Expedition 50 space residents also explored how the body changes shape and how to prevent back pain during long-term missions.

BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, had its hatches opened temporarily so astronaut Peggy Whitson could install temporary sensors and perform a modal test, which has the astronaut use their fist to impart loads on the module. The sensors are measuring the resulting vibrations and how the module holds up to impacts. BEAM is an expandable habitat technology demonstration, which is a lower-mass and lower-volume system than metal habitats and can increase the efficiency of cargo shipments, possibly reducing the number of launches needed and overall mission costs.

Whitson also joined Commander Shane Kimbrough for body measurements to help NASA understand how living in space changes an astronaut’s physical characteristics. The duo collected video and imagery and measured chest, waist, hip arms and legs to help researchers learn how physical changes impact suit sizing.

An experimental suit called the SkinSuit is being studied for its ability to offset the effects of microgravity and prevent lower back pain and the stretching of the spine. Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet wore the SkinSuit today and documented his comfort, range of motion and other aspects of the suit.

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.
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The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.

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USA, China Led World in Launches in 2016

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

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The United States and China led the world in orbital launch attempts in 2016 with 22 apiece. The combined 44 launches made up more than half of the 85 flights conducted around the world.

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BEAM Update: Expandable Habitat Reveals Important Early Performance Data

Crew inside BEAM. (Credit: NASA)
Crew inside BEAM. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Just five months into its two-year demonstration mission on the International Space Station, the first human-rated expandable habitat in low-Earth orbit is already returning valuable information about expandable technology performance and operations in space. Developed through a public-private partnership between NASA and Bigelow Aerospace, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) launched to the station April 8, 2016, in the “trunk” of the Dragon capsule during the eighth SpaceX Commercial Resupply Service mission.

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Rubins Inspects Inside of BEAM Module

Kate Rubins inspects BEAM. (Credit: NASA)
Kate Rubins inspects BEAM. (Credit: NASA)

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins inspected the Bigelow Aerospace Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) attached to the International Space Station on Sept. 5, 2016. Expandable habitats are designed to take up less room on a spacecraft while providing greater volume for living and working in space once expanded.

It was the first checkup of BEAM since the initial inspection of the space station’s expanded node after it was deployed May 28. Rubins collected radiation monitors and sampled surfaces inside BEAM to assess the microbe environment. Her inspection revealed the module appeared in good condition, and the samples and radiation detectors were packed for return to Earth for analysis.

On Sept. 29, Rubins opened up and entered the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module again, and temporarily installed gear for a test to measure the loads and vibrations the module experiences. For the next two years, crew members will inspect the module every three months to check for stability.

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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.

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A Closer Look at NextSTEP-2 Deep Space Habitat Concepts

Concept image of Sierra Nevada Corporation's habitation prototype, based on its Dream Chaser cargo module. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)
Concept image of Sierra Nevada Corporation’s habitation prototype, based on its Dream Chaser cargo module. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Through exploration, NASA is broadening horizons, enhancing knowledge, and improving our way of life. Our efforts to explore and discover the universe are increasing in both scope and duration. The Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket in the world, soon will launch the Orion spacecraft and its crew deeper into space than ever before. Expanding humanity’s presence farther into the solar system also requires advancements in the development of habitats and the systems to keep astronauts safe as they live and work in deep space for long periods of time.

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NASA Awards 6 NextSTEP-2 Contracts for Deep Space Habitats

Orion and the NextSTEP habitat in the cis-lunar proving ground – the next step from low Earth orbit on the way to Mars. (Credit; Lockheed Martin)
Orion and the NextSTEP habitat in the cis-lunar proving ground – the next step from low Earth orbit on the way to Mars. (Credit; Lockheed Martin)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected six U.S. companies to help advance the Journey to Mars by developing ground prototypes and concepts for deep space habitats.

Through the public-private partnerships enabled by the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP-2) Broad Agency Announcement, Appendix A, NASA and industry partners will expand commercial development of space in low-Earth orbit while also improving deep space exploration capabilities to support more extensive human spaceflight missions.

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NASA RFI Could Lead to Private Modules on Space Station

Robert Bigelow describes his company's space station module. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Robert Bigelow describes his company’s space station module. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

NASA has released a request for information (RFI) seeking ideas from industry about how to maximize commercial use of the International Space Station (ISS) that could lead to privately-built space modules being attached to the orbiting laboratory.

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Getting to Upmass: A Dragon’s Tale

A Station that Needs Everything
A Scrappy Startup Contracted to Ship 35.4 Metric Tons of It
Ought to be Easy Enough, Right?

SpaceX Dragon freighter at ISS. (Credit: NASA)
SpaceX Dragon freighter at ISS. (Credit: NASA)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The International Space Station (ISS) is not exactly a self-sufficient outpost. The station’s occupants can’t jump into a Soyuz and pop over to an orbiting Wal-Mart when they run out of food, water or toothpaste. Everything the six astronauts need to survive — save for the random plastic wrench or replacement part they can now 3-D print — must be shipped up from the majestic blue planet 400 km below them.

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BEAM Closed as Crew Packs Spacecraft for Departure

Astronaut Jeff Williams works inside the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. (Credit: NASA TV)
Astronaut Jeff Williams works inside the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. (Credit: NASA TV)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — BEAM’s hatches have been closed completing crew operations for the month. Meanwhile, a pair of spaceships is also being packed for departure this month.

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Astronaut Enters BEAM

Astronaut Jeff Williams works inside the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. (Credit: NASA TV)
Astronaut Jeff Williams works inside the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. (Credit: NASA TV)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module’s (BEAM) hatch was opened up for the first time today. Astronaut Jeff Williams entered BEAM and checked sensors, installed air ducts and reported back to Earth that it was in pristine condition. After Williams completed the BEAM checks he exited and closed the hatch for the day.

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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.

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ISS Update: BEAM Leak Checks While New Crew Preps for Launch

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

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The week’s final set of CubeSats were deployed Wednesday night as the new BEAM goes through a series of leak checks before next week’s entry. Back inside the orbital lab, the six-member Expedition 47 crew conducted advanced space research sponsored by private and public institutions.

A final pair of CubeSats was deployed outside the Kibo lab module Wednesday wrapping up the week’s deployment activities. Since Monday, a total of 16 Dove satellites were released into orbit from a small satellite deployer attached to Kibo. The CubeSats will observe the Earth’s environment helping disaster relief efforts and improving agricultural yields.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) environment continues to be equalized with that of the rest of the International Space Station. Astronaut Jeff Williams is continuing to install components on the BEAM bulkhead and vestibule area before entering the new expandable module early next week.

The rest of the crew explored human research to improve astronaut health on long space journeys possibly benefitting humans on Earth too. Back on Earth, three new Expedition 48-49 crew members, Soyuz Commander Anatoly Ivanishin and Flight Engineers Kate Rubins and Takuya Onishi, are in Russia counting down to a June 24 launch to the space station.