A NASA astronaut will be the first human to enter a human-rated expandable module deployed in space to investigate the potential challenges and benefits of such habitats for deep space exploration and commercial low-Earth orbit applications.
Jeff Williams’ entry on Monday will mark the beginning of a two-year data collection process. He will take an air sample, place caps on the now closed ascent vent valves, install ducting to assist in Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM’s) air circulation, retrieve deployment data sensors and manually open the tanks used for pressurisation to ensure all of the air has been released, a NASA statement said.
Jeff will then install sensors over the following two days that will be used for the project’s primary task of gathering data on how an expandable habitat performs in the thermal environment of space, and how it reacts to radiation, micrometeoroids and orbital debris.
During BEAM’s test period, the module typically will be closed off to the rest of the space station. Astronauts will enter the module three to four times each year to collect temperature, pressure and radiation data, and to assess its structural condition, NASA said.
After two years of monitoring, the current plan is to jettison the BEAM from the space station to burn up on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Expandable habitats are designed to take up less room when being launched but provide greater volume for living and working in space once expanded, NASA said.
This first test of an expandable module will allow scientists to gauge how well the habitat performs and specifically, how well it protects against solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space.
Launched on April 8 aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the BEAM was attached to the International Space Station’s Tranquility module about a week later, NASA said.