According to NASA, the BEAM will be fully expanded with air in late May. Upon full expansion, BEAM will be about the size of a small bedroom – 560 cubic feet. Astronauts will enter BEAM about 2-3 times a year over the course of two years to test the module’s ability to handle radiation, microimpacts, and other hazards of space.
BEAM being moved to the Tranquility module by Canadarm2. (Credit: NASA)
The BEAM was manufactured by Bigelow Aerospace under a $17.4 million contract with NASA. The company is already at work on its next expandable habitat, the B330. The company has signed a NextSTEP contract with NASA to demonstrate the technology, and recently entered into a partnership with United Launch Alliance for a planned launch in 2020. The B330 that gets launched may be attached to the ISS or it may be placed in orbit as a standalone destination.
Artist depection of the interior of a B330. Credit: Bigelow Aerospace
B330′s are designed with a planned interior space of 330 cubic meters – about 12,000 cubic feet. If all goes as planned, a B330 habitat would be able to hold up to 6 astronauts for extended stays, and be equipped for laboratory research as well. In addition, B330′s are modular, and the company envisions that several B330′s could be attached together to form much larger space habitats.
In 2011, Robert T. Bigelow, the company’s founder, told FORBES, “We have a way of building stations that are far less expensive, far more safe and can be built more quickly. And the timing is right.”
With this mission, the company is one step closer to its goals.