If you’ve been following closely along, NASA and SpaceX had a pretty exciting week. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket was commissioned to fly its Dragon capsule with much-needed supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). In addition, Dragon also delivered the much-anticipated Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM). The module is an experimental new technology that will allow astronauts to inflate livable new space from a readymade collapsible unit.
Designed to inflate in space like a moon bounce, BEAM is meant to circumvent the difficulties of outer space construction, where the lack of gravity makes construction of accurate structures difficult. BEAM’s inflatable design is so that astronauts in space could receive completed, flattened modules from Earth, and simply inflate them in space.
After a failed inflation on Thursday, NASA announced that it would attempt again to expand BEAM to its full size on Saturday. Yesterday at 4:10 p.m. EDT. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was expanded to its full size at 67 inches in length, and 127 inches in internal diameter. The process, which began at 9:04 a.m. EDT, took nearly seven hours to complete.
To celebrate, NASA released a time lapsed video on its YouTube channel of BEAM’s entire expansion. You can watch it below.
As you can see from the video, BEAM’s expansion begins with a pretty good start before slowing down intermittently during the middle portions of its inflation. Finally, BEAM makes rapid process towards the final stretch of its expansion to reach full size.
This is the second attempt to inflate BEAM aboard the ISS, as the first attempt was halted after BEAM wasn’t inflating at the proper rate predicted by NASA’s models. NASA took no chances with its second attempt, recording each bit of data after a valve was released to let air into BEAM. After analyzing the data, NASA scientists determined the next appropriate amount of air to release into the module. This is why the process took several hours, as the need to calculate and analyze the amount of air released is key to replicating the process, and avoid future stalls.
If you watched the entire process on NASA’s website, you would have heard some “pops” as BEAM slowly increased in size. This was a welcome noise as this indicated the internal straps holding BEAM together were snapping for its full size. Unfortunately, you can’t hear any of those popping noises in this time lapse video as it’s entirely silent.
Thanks to the successful expansion of BEAM, astronauts will begin collecting data on the efficacy of the new livable module. If the module holds, then expect these inflatable spaces to be the next big step in helping cultivate livable habitats in outer space, and even other planets.