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The Five W’s of an Expandable Habitat in Space

The Five W’s of an Expandable Habitat in Space

Who: In this case, it’s really a “what.” The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is an expandable module developed by Bigelow Aerospace using a NASA patent conceptualized in the 1990s. It is made up of layers of fabric that will expand when installed and equalize with the pressure of the International Space Station.

What: Sensors inside BEAM will monitor temperature and radiation changes, as well as its resistance to potential orbital debris impacts. During its time on station, the airlock between BEAM and the rest of the space station will remained closed, and astronauts will enter only to collect data and help the experiment progress. If BEAM is punctured, the habitat is designed to slowly compress to keep the rest of the space station safe.

With the BEAM launch, deployment and time on station, Bigelow will demonstrate a number of expandable habitat capabilities, such as its folding and packing techniques, radiation protection capability and its thermal, structural and mechanical durability.


When: BEAM is set to launch on SpaceX’s eighth Dragon resupply mission April 8, and will be docked to the space station for a minimum two-year demonstration period.

Where: The International Space Station’s mechanical arm will transport BEAM from the spacecraft to a berthing port on the Tranquility module where it will then be expanded.


Why: These expandable modules take up less room on a rocket, but once set up, provide more volume for living and working in space.


When we’re traveling to Mars or beyond, astronauts need habitats that are both durable and easy to transport and to set up. That’s where expandable technology comes in. BEAM is one of the first steps to test expandable structures as a viable alternative to traditional space habitats.

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