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NASA Blows Up the Newest Part of the ISS

Posted June 01, 2016 1:22 PM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: Mars NASA Space Station

Proving that even astronauts aren't immune from holiday weekend honey-do lists, flight engineer Jeff Williams blew up the first inflatable space structure on the ISS on May 28. Dubbed the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, Williams spent the better part of seven hours filling the BEAM via a manual air valve and slowly letting the pressure in the module equalize.

Inflatable structures could be a key solution to humanity's increased attention towards space exploration. According to Science News, the timeline and checklist for landing a human on Mars looks about the same as it did in the 1990s, meaning the first mission to Mars is on track for the 2030s. This comes after NASA constructs an orbiting station around the Moon in the 2020s, to serve as a jumping off point for future missions.

The primary benefit is that inflatable structures take up considerably less room in the cargo holds of LEO-bound rockets, when each ounce of cargo is precious and itemized. BEAM is outfitted with several sensors and instruments to determine the habitability of inflatable structures in space. Scientists are primarily concerned with how BEAM handles collisions with space debris and exposure to radiation. Over the course of the next two years, astronauts will spend test periods in the BEAM collecting data and assessing its utility.

BEAM is constructed of two metal bulkheads, an aluminum structure, and panels of fabric layered with internal bladders-once inflated, it will occupy 565 cubic feet. When testing of BEAM is complete, NASA will jettison BEAM from the ISS via the Canadarm2 so that the BEAM burns up before reentering Earth's atmosphere. If the BEAM proves viable, NASA intends to develop more inflatable structures for future space missions.

The concept of space inflatables has been floating around NASA for many years. It was first envisioned in the TransHab project launched by NASA in the 1990s, which would replace the ISS with an inflatable space station. The TransHab featured a foot-thick shell made of 24 material layers that would protect the station from debris and meteorites that could travel seven times faster than a bullet. TransHab was shelved when ISS budget cuts force NASA to abandon the project. Instead, NASA licensed the technology to Bigelow Aerospace, who parlayed the concept into the BEAM 15 years later.

Had NASA been able to develop TransHab further, it's possible we as a species would be just a bit closer to Mars. Nonetheless, BEAM and space inflatables look like a promising way to begin the next odyssey of space exploration.

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#1

Re: NASA Blows Up the Newest Part of the ISS

06/01/2016 2:05 PM

I couldn't help noticing that the now deployed structure looks quite different on it's surface from the pictures circulated previous...It seems to have some sort of loose fitting panels on its exterior....

Looks like a Three Stooges wallpapering job on there.....

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#2
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Re: NASA Blows Up the Newest Part of the ISS

06/01/2016 3:39 PM

No doubt its fugly. There were concerns about fabric wrinkles when they first tried to blow it up. BEAM had been folded up for over a year. That could explain some of it. NASA called it "soft goods friction forces."

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Re: NASA Blows Up the Newest Part of the ISS

06/01/2016 4:08 PM

I read someplace that the module had ballistic protection added...I was thinking they must have just attached a bunch of bullet proof padding at the last minute that was laying around in some congressman's surplus warehouse...haha

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#4

Re: NASA Blows Up the Newest Part of the ISS

06/01/2016 6:05 PM

Wow! 7 hours to blow up a balloon! And I thought I was an expert at milking a job for overtime pay.

I am humbled by NASA once again.

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Re: NASA Blows Up the Newest Part of the ISS

06/06/2016 5:01 PM

and in a vacuum too

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