NASA inflates new ISS module (VIDEO)

© Bigelow Aerospace
Following a failed first attempt, NASA has successfully inflated a new experimental pump-it-up compartment at the International Space Station. Setup of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) took around seven hours to complete.

The inflatable ISS fitted module was slowly brought to life by opening and closing an air valve from internal air tanks to expand the compartment.

“A significant milestone has been accomplished,” the creator of BEAM Bigelow Aerospace tweeted.

SpaceX delivered BEAM to the Space Station early last month. The module was attached to NASA's $100-billion orbiting lab where it will remain for the next two years. Stretched to its full the room offers an extra 4 meters (13 feet) in length and 3.2 meters (10.5 feet) in diameter for scientists to conduct experiments.

Full of censors, the BEAM is designed to monitor radiation protection, pressure, temperature, and debris impact detection. Astronauts will periodically enter the BEAM to record data, and perform inspections of the module.

© Bigelow Aerospace

But despite the successful inflation, the six-men NASA crew will have to wait a week before entering the chamber to make sure the room is completely airtight and safe for humans.

© Bigelow Aerospace

BEAM, built by Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas, is based on designs initially developed by NASA in the 1990s. It barely expanded during the initial inflation attempt on Thursday. NASA believes the attempt failed because the fabric layers had trouble unfolding after being packed too tight thereby causing too much friction between layers.

On Friday the ISS crew solved the problem by relieving pressure inside the chamber to reduce the friction among the multiple layers to complete the setup on Saturday.

If BEAM performs the way intended, NASA hopes to adopt the technology for future crews traveling in deep space. Expandable modules will greatly decrease the amount of transport volume for future space missions. Following the two-year test the BEAM will be separated from the space station to deorbit and burn during descent through Earth’s atmosphere.