Astronauts aboard the International Space Station started the process of inflating the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), an inflatable habitat that can be snapped onto the International Space Station to expand it. It’s the first inflatable structure designed to protect human life in space.
Unfortunately after an initial inflation, BEAM failed to expand to its full volume. NASA ground team decided to put off the rest of expansion in order to assess all the data and determine the right path forward.
The habitat was designed by Bigelow Aerospace and NASA paid $17.8 million to test it at the space station. Bigelow has already launched two free-flying inflatable modules to orbit — Genesis I and Genesis II, in 2006 and 2007. These inflatable modules take up much less space on transport vehicles which would make them appealing for longer missions, especially to Mars.
NASA plans to study how BEAM performs in orbit — specifically, how it protects against space junk, solar radiation and temperature extremes.
“Successful BEAM demonstration on ISS will certainly be a giant stepping stone to understanding the role of inflatable structures for future space exploration habitats,” according to a NASA project overview.