NASA just unveiled a new ultra-light expandable habitat designed to expand the capacity of the International Space Station. The 13-foot long and 11-foot wide Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) weighs 70 percent less than similarly-sized rigid modules and will be able to accommodate up to six astronauts.
NASA developed the expandable space habitat technology in collaboration with Bigelow Aerospace. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is scheduled to arrive at the space station in 2015 for a two-year technology demonstration and will launch aboard the eight SpaceX cargo resupply mission. Following its arrival, the astronauts will use the station’s robotic arm to install the module on the aft port of the Tranquility node. A pressurization system will expand the structure to its full size using air stored within the packed module.
Each of the modules offers 330 cubic meters of space and could be used as a chain-like orbiting space station that would be much easier to assemble than the currently used ISS.
During the two-year test period astronauts will be able to gather data on the module and will test its performance, including structural integrity, leak rate, and its response to radiation and temperature changes. After two years, the module will be jettisoned from the station, burning up on re-entry.