The International Space Station just got an extension

1 Jun 2016

International Space Station, via Wikimedia Commons

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have done a bit of renovating, with new expandable technology giving the six-person crew some legroom.

BEAM is the future of space travel. Well, it’s one of the many innovations that will make up the future of space travel, along with the likes of CubeSats, Starshot and asteroid mining.

Standing for the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, BEAM was expanded over the past few days, adding 565 cubic feet to the layout of the ISS.

It’s not habitable just yet, with further tests needed before astronaut Jeff Williams gets the go to enter the module on 6 June, when he will install sensors inside BEAM to measure its environment.

BEAM is another example of the collaborative nature of today’s space missions. Elsewhere, Japan’s Kibo lab module is sending more CubeSats into orbit to support research.

SpaceX has commercialised space supply lines, while various agencies are trying to come up with the best programme to get spacecraft to Mars.

It’s all starting from little ideas, too. Earlier this week, four students from St Flannan’s College in Clare were named the winners of a space habitat challenge at the recent International Space Development Conference.

They designed a habitat that could be self-sustaining, allowing for the growth of food and production of water, as well as having its own artificial gravity, atmosphere and electricity.

The International Space Station now hosts the new fully expanded and pressurized Bigelow Expandable Activity Module attached to the Tranquility module. Credit: NASA

The International Space Station now hosts the new fully expanded and pressurised BEAM, via NASA

As for BEAM, the fact it travelled up to space at a little over half the size of its expanded habitat hints at how spacecraft may be formed in the near future.

It was installed on 16 May onto the Tranquility module after being delivered via SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft.

This first test of an expandable module will allow investigators to gauge how well the habitat performs and, specifically, how well it protects against solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic