Astronauts aboard the International Space Station may get an expandable space habitat soon.
Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow is planning to send an inflatable space habitat to the space station. The habitat will attach itself to the station once it reaches orbit, expand and will be tested by astronauts to check how it operates for the next two years.
“It’s not just historic for our company, which obviously is the case, but I think it’s historic for the architecture,” Bigelow, who is also the owner of Budget Suites of America, said.
As reported by the Houston Chronicle, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM – made from kevlar-like material that is inflatable – could “change the entire dynamic for human habitation” in space, Bigelow noted. He added that he hopes to have a pair of private space stations ready to launch by 2020, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.
According to the Washington Post, Bigelow Aerospace has also developed a new line of habitats, the B330, measuring 20 times the size of the module set to launch Friday.
When it expands in late May or early June, the BEAM is expected to expand four times in volume. The collapsed habitat is around 7 feet long and 8 feet in diameter. Once it inflates, it will become 13 feet long and 10.5 feet in diameter. It will offer as much as 565 cubic feet of space, which can be compared to the size of a small bedroom.
The habitat will be flown by an unmanned SpaceX Falcon rocket, which will launch on Friday afternoon. The rocket will also be carrying a capsule containing supplies. Last year, SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket’s explosion prevented the habitat from being flown to space.
The BEAM, which will be attached to the station for two years, will be tested for factors like radiation and temperature, and how it behaves with space debris swirling at almost 17,500 miles per hour.