NASA Halts BEAM Expansion, Considering Next Steps – UPDATE 2

NASA Halts BEAM Expansion, Considering Next Steps – UPDATE 2

UPDATE, MAY 27, 11:30 AM ET.  Today’s media telecon has been postponed by two hours, to 2:00 pm ET.

UPDATE, MAY 26, 2016, 5:45 PM ET.  NASA has decided NOT to try again tomorrow (Friday) to expand BEAM.  A media teleconference will be held tomorrow, May 27, at 12:00 pm ET to explain the situation.  It will be broadcast on NASA’s NewsAudio site.

ORIGINAL STORY, MAY 26, 2016, 10:55 AM ET. NASA halted expansion of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) this morning when it did not expand as expected.   BEAM is attached to the International Space Station (ISS).   Agency and Bigelow Aerospace experts are assessing the situation to determine how to proceed.  A media teleconference scheduled for this morning was postponed.

BEAM was delivered to the ISS on the Space-X CRS-8 cargo mission in April and moved to a docking port on the ISS Tranquillity module.  Often referred to as “inflatable” rather than “expandable,” such modules are designed to be launched in collapsed form to reduce mass and volume requirements and filled with air once on orbit.  BEAM is being expanded using air from inside the ISS. 

Astronaut Jeff Williams followed detailed instructions from ground controllers this morning to allow air into BEAM one second or a few seconds at a time.  After several tries, ground controllers determined the module had expanded only a few inches in length and diameter, less than expected.   Operations were halted at that point.

In a statement on its ISS blog, NASA said it is “working closely with Bigelow Aerospace to understand why its module did not fully expand today as planned.”  Engineers are evaluating the situation and depending on the outcome, another attempt could be made as early as tomorrow.

BEAM is based on technology NASA developed in the 1990s under the TransHab program to build an expandable module to serve as crew quarters on the ISS.  It was cancelled for budgetary reasons, but hotel magnate Robert Bigelow decided to invest his own money in developing the system with an eye to providing habitats not only in low earth orbit (LEO), but on the Moon and elsewhere beyond LEO.  He launched two test modules, Genesis I and Genesis II, on Russian rockets in 2006 and 2007 respectively.  Those tests went well, but BEAM is larger and had to be configured differently for launch in the “trunk” of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

Assuming BEAM ultimately is expanded, it will remain attached to ISS for two years of tests, then it will be detached and burn up in the atmosphere.

BEAM is a technology demonstrator.  Bigelow is trying to convince NASA to allow him to attach a full size module, B330, to ISS in 2020, which he calls XBASE.  The 330 refers to its volume of 330 cubic meters.  

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