Bigelow’s BEAM Successfully Expands, Pressurizes at ISS

BEAM Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

After a slow start brought about by a combination of extreme caution on NASA’s part, Bigelow Aerospace’s BEAM was successfully expanded to its full dimensions on Saturday.


“Pressurization of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) began at 4:34 p.m. EDT, and the eight tanks filled with air completed full pressurization of the module 10 minutes later at 4:44 p.m. BEAM’s pressure will be equalized with that of the International Space Station, where it will remain attached for a two-year test period.

The module measured just over 7 feet long and just under 7.75 feet in diameter in its packed configuration. BEAM now measures more than 13 feet long and about 10.5 feet in diameter to create 565 cubic feet of habitable volume. It weighs approximately 3,000 pounds.

During the next week, leak checks will be performed on BEAM to ensure its structural integrity. Hatch opening and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams’ first entrance into BEAM will take place about a week after leak checks are complete.”


Note: While Thursday’s initial attempt to expand BEAM was not successful, and provided a field day for media sources always delighted with a “NASA screwed up again,” story, it was clear from a Friday teleconference on the problem that the issue was most likely caused by the hyper cautious approach station managers called for in expanding the habitat. Nothing wrong with that except in retrospect Bigelow and NASA might have wanted to stress to the media ahead of time that due to the combination of safety concerns and uncertainties in modelling the expansion/friction of the materials, it might take several efforts using the minimal air pressures involved.

While Bigelow has long held its own plans for independent space stations, and now would like to add a BA-330 module to ISS, the company is also competing against three well established aerospace “primes” in a bid to provide additional living space to NASA for whatever use the agency actually finds for Orion spacecraft. Achieving a successful deployment of the BEAM is a critical step if the company is to have a legitimate opportunity in the deep space food fight to come.


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4 Comments on "Bigelow’s BEAM Successfully Expands, Pressurizes at ISS"

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  1. Anything that promotes the continuation of the ISS hurts the emergence of the private space station industry, IMO.

    Bigelow needs to start focusing on deploying the BA-330 modules as a private commercial alternative the ISS– not as an addition to the ISS.


  2. Keith Pickering says:

    Interesting (to me, anyway) that the ground photos of the inflated BEAM show a barrel-shaped module, while the on-orbit photos of the inflated BEAM on the ISS show the final shape closer to bi-conical.

    No idea what might cause that.

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