NASA Extends BEAM Time on ISS

BEAM module interior (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, known as BEAM, will remain attached to the International Space Station to provide additional performance data on expandable habitat technologies and enable new technology demonstrations. NASA awarded a sole-source contract to Bigelow Aerospace to support extension of the life of the privately-owned module, and its use to stow spare space station hardware.

After NASA and Bigelow successfully completed collaborative analyses on BEAM life extension and stowage feasibility, astronauts began the process to provide additional storage capability aboard the station by removing hardware used for the initial BEAM expansion. They then converted sensors that monitor the BEAM environment from wireless to wired (to prevent interference from future stowage items on transmission of sensor data). Next they installed air ducting, netting, and large empty bags to define the stowage volume for hardware inside BEAM. NASA and Bigelow later will likely add a power and data interface to BEAM, which will allow additional technology demonstrations to take place for the duration of the partnership agreement.

This new contract, which began in November, will run for a minimum of three years, with two options to extend for one additional year. At the end of the new contract, the agency may consider another extension or could again consider jettisoning BEAM from the station.

The space inside BEAM will hold up to 130 Cargo Transfer Bags of in-orbit stowage. Long-term use of BEAM will enable NASA and Bigelow to gather additional performance data on the module’s structural integrity and thermal stability and resistance to space debris, radiation, and microbial growth, to help NASA advance and learn about expandable space habitat technology in low-Earth orbit for application toward future human exploration missions. Using BEAM for stowage will free up about 1.87 cubic feet (0.53 cubic meters) of space in other station modules for research.

NASA’s use of BEAM as part of a human-rated system allows Bigelow Aerospace to demonstrate its technology for future commercial applications in low-Earth Orbit. Initial studies have shown that soft materials can perform as well as rigid materials for habitation volumes in space and that BEAM has performed as designed in resistance to space debris.

BEAM launched on the eighth SpaceX Commercial Resupply Service mission in 2016. After being attached to the Tranquility Node using the station’s robotic Canadarm2, it was filled with air to expand it for a two-year test period to validate overall performance and capability of expandable habitats. Since the initial expansion, a suite of sensors installed by the crew automatically take measurements and monitor BEAM’s performance to help inform designs for future habitat systems. This extension will deepen NASA’s understanding of expandable space systems by making the BEAM a more operational element of the space station to be actively used in storage and crew operations.

Space station crew members have entered BEAM more than a dozen times since its expansion in May 2016. The crew has conducted radiation shielding experiments, installed passive radiation badges called Radiation Area Monitors, and routinely collect microbial air and surface samples. These badges and samples are returned to Earth for standard microbial and radiation analysis at the Johnson Space Center.

The public-private partnership between NASA and Bigelow supports NASA’s objective to develop deep space habitation capabilities for human missions beyond Earth orbit while fostering commercial capabilities for non-government applications to stimulate the growth of the space economy.

  • Robert G. Oler

    great to bad there are no antenna ports for a repeater 🙂

  • delphinus100

    But some of the frequency allocations they want for future modules (which include145-146 MHz) suggests it may be part of their long-range thinking…

  • Jeff2Space

    Nice. I’m sure the original Transhab team is happy that we finally have a man rated inflatable/expandable module on ISS, even though it’s not quite what they were aiming for.

  • Michael Halpern

    At the end of the day, BEAM is just a prototype for the BA 330 and considering its original mission, it didn’t really need it

  • Congrats to the Bigelow team and (as you point out) the Transhab team. We are definitely seeing a renaissance of private industry picking up good USG research projects.

  • Jeff2Space

    This article has a very nice picture showing the modifications made to BEAM to allow it to store cargo.

  • Michael Halpern

    Hopefully they will get a BA 330 on the ISS, that much volume is useful,

  • Rabbit

    If BEAM has 560 cubic feet of pressurized volume, how will using it for stowage only free up less than 2 cubic feet of research space?

  • Paul451
  • Robert G. Oler

    good post great

  • Robert G. Oler

    yes. the Bigelow people are some of the “most innovative” thinkers and open to all sorts of ideas…and they are working with some groups to make things happen including in amateur radio.

    they were presented with a proposal, which they and the head of the company took seriously that would have “worked” a 10/15 meter repeater with a APT attachment to allow gap coverage on the weather satellite mode that is popular on 136…the project is not dead. I just wish it had happened…

  • Robert G. Oler

    I know but well maybe the next one…

  • Michael Halpern

    The next one from BA is likely to be a BA 330, which will obviously have that, the variant depends on what they want to use it for obviously,

  • windbourne

    1.87 cubic feet? Gads, that is small esp since the thing is bedroom size.

  • windbourne

    Yeah, that was my interest. It does not make sense why so little.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    Maybe someone mixed up Metric with American units of measurement.

  • WhoAmI

    Definitely an error. 1.87 cubic feet is the size of a Cargo Transfer Bag. The BEAM can hold up to 130 of them, which gives it a total stowage of 243.1 cubic feet or 6.88 cubic meters. This article talks about the extension before it happened and uses the correct stats:

  • WhoAmI

    See response to Rabbit->windbourne posts above for correction.