Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) - 10.12.16

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Future space habitats for low-Earth orbit, the moon, Mars, or other destinations need to be lightweight and relatively simple to construct. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is an experimental expandable capsule that docks with the International Space Station (ISS). After docking, BEAM inflates to roughly 13 feet long and 10.5 feet in diameter to provide a habitable volume where a crew member can enter.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by Gerard Valle, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Gerard Valle, Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States

Information Pending

Bigelow Aerospace (BA), Las Vegas, NV, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
Technology Demonstration Office (TDO)

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery, Space Exploration

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2016 - February 2017; March 2017 - September 2017

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Increase Technology Readiness Level (TRL) for Expandable System to 9 (Flight Demonstration). This Flight Demonstration also drives TRL increase of certain technology areas like Soft goods materials to 8.0.
  • Demonstrate launch and deployment of a commercial expandable. Implement folding and packaging techniques for expandable. implement a venting system for expandable shell during ascent to ISS.
  • Determine Radiation protection capability of expandable structures.
  • Demonstrate design performance of Commercial expandable structure like thermal, structural, mechanical durability, long term leak performance etc.
  • Demonstrate safe deployment and operation of an expandable structure in a flight mission.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is transported to the International Space Station (ISS) inside the SpaceX Dragon supply vehicle’s unpressurized aft trunk compartment. Once Dragon is docked to the ISS, a crew member uses the station’s robotic arm to extract BEAM and attach to a port on the Tranquility node. After the module is secured to the port, BEAM is expanded from its packed dimensions of 5.7 feet long and just under 7.75 feet in diameter to its pressurized dimensions of 13 feet long and 10.5 feet in diameter. BEAM weighs approximately 3,000 pounds and has 560 cubic feet of pressurized volume. The BEAM module’s skin is made up of multiple layers of soft goods. The different layers of BEAM from inside to outside consist of the air barrier (bladder), restraint, Micro-meteoroid and orbital debris (MMOD) layers, External MLI layers and an exterior BETA cloth. The restraint provides the primary structural load bearing member of the BEAM module. BEAM also has a very robust micro-meteoroid and orbital debris (MMOD) shield. This MMOD shield is designed and tested to the low-Earth orbit MMOD environment. The shield is designed to stop potential particles from breaching into the primary structural restraint layer and the gas bladder. The probability of penetration is extremely low. In the very unlikely event of a penetration, the BEAM would slowly leak instead of bursting. It is designed in this manner to preclude any damage to the rest of ISS. Another desirable feature of the fabric skin of BEAM is its ability to better absorb noise for a quieter habitable volume than the aluminum walls of the ISS modules. The BEAM investigation runs two years. During this test period, BEAM is not used for storage and is not occupied. The module is constantly monitored for temperature, pressure, and radiation, and ISS crew periodically (four times per year) enter the module to collect data and check on its structural condition. After two years of testing, BEAM is released from ISS to burn up on reentry into the atmosphere.

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Space Applications
Expandable habitats, occasionally described as inflatable habitats, greatly decrease the amount of transport volume for future space missions. These “expandables” weigh less and take up less room on a rocket while allowing additional space for living and working. They also provide protection from solar and cosmic radiation, space debris, and other contaminants. Crews traveling to the moon, Mars, asteroids, or other destinations could use them as habitable structures.

Earth Applications
Durable, reliable and safe expandable structures have a wide variety of applications on Earth, from infrastructure improvements and repairs to protection of human health and safety. Expandables can be used as pop-up habitats in disaster areas or remote locations; storm surge protection devices; pipeline or subway system plugs to prevent flooding, fluid storage containers, hyperbaric chambers for pressurized oxygen delivery, and many other applications.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols

The investigation begins when BEAM is deployed during Increment 47 and concludes when BEAM is disposed of 2 years later.  BEAM launches to the ISS on a Falcon 9 rocket as part of SpaceX’s Commercial Resupply Services Mission 8.  The BEAM weighs approximately 3,000 lbs (1,360 kg) and travels within the unpressurized cargo hold of a Dragon capsule. After the Dragon has docked with the Station, the Canadarm2 removes the BEAM from the capsule and connects it to the aft port of Node 3. Upon successfully transferring and docking the BEAM to Node 3, an ISS astronaut activates the deployment sequence, where upon the BEAM expands out to its full length of roughly 13 feet/4 meters with a diameter of nearly 10.5 feet/3 meters. Subsequent to completion of this deployment process, an ISS crew member enters the BEAM, becoming the first astronaut to step inside an expandable habitat system.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites
Bigelow Aerospace

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image Inflated BEAM module (balloon structure at top center) berthed to the Tranquility node of ISS. Astronauts enters the module a few times a year to gather performance data and inspect the structure. Following the test period, the module is jettisoned from the station, burning up on re-entry. (NASA)
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