AstroKomrade Randy Bresnik posted a pic yesterday of him entering the BEAM module on the International Space Station for the first time. BEAM stands for Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, which is an expandable habitat on the ISS. Expandable components that can be used for living spaces require minimum payload volume and weight for liftoff, but once in space, and can be inflated to provide a comfortable place for astronauts to live and work.
BEAM launched in April 8, 2016. It was extracted from the space capsule’s “trunk” by a robotic arm and attached to the rear port on the Tranquility node. In May, astronaut Jeff Williams inflated BEAM over the course of 7 hours. While packed for launch, BEAM was 7 feet long and a little over 7 ½ feet in diameter. Inflated to capacity, BEAM is over 13 feet long and 10.5 feet in diameter.
Although it is meant for habitation, it is closed off to the station and astronauts will enter periodically to collect data on how it reacts to radiation, micrometeoroids and orbital debris. As of May 2017, crewmembers have entered BEAM nine times in the last year. They swap out passive radiation badges and collect microbial air and surface samples, all of which are sent back to Earth for analysis at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Halfway into its two-year demonstration, BEAM is showing soft materials can perform as well as rigid materials for habitation areas in space. So far, researchers have found that cosmic radiation levels inside BEAM are comparable to other areas of ISS. They have witnessed probably micrometeoroid debris impacts but its shielding has prevented penetration and exceeded space station shielding requirements.