After more than seven hours of hard work, U.S. space agency NASA on Saturday successfully deployed the first experimental inflatable room attached to the International Space Station.
NASA Astronaut Jeff Williams began introducing air into the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) at 9:04 a.m. EDT (1304 GMT), but he only filled air into the spacecraft for a very short time, ranging from one to 30 seconds, each time.
In total, Williams opened the air valve 25 times for a total time of 2 minutes and 27 seconds to add air to the module in short bursts as flight controllers carefully monitored the its internal pressure.
“For safety, we’ re going slowly,” the U.S. space agency said on Twitter. “Want to ensure expansion doesn’t impart any force onto the Station structure itself.”
The 3,100-pound (1,400-kilogram) Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was built by Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace under a 17.8-million-U.S.-dollar NASA contract.
When manual operations ended at 4:10 p.m. EDT (2010 GMT), the module added 61 inches (1.5 meters)in length to reach 67 inches (1.7 meters) beyond its packed configuration and an internal diameter of 127 inches (3.2 meters), NASA said.
Then, Williams opened eight tanks of air stored within the BEAM, pressurizing the module into full size — more than 13 feet (4.0 meters) long and about 10.5 feet (3.2 meters) in diameter with 565 cubic feet (16 cubic meters) of interior volume, NASA said.
During initial operations Thursday to expand BEAM, the module’s length and diameter did not increase with the increased internal pressure, as expected. As a result, NASA called off operations for the day and engineers depressurized the module Friday afternoon.
But this time, things went pretty well, with Williams reporting hearing popping sounds at the beginning from BEAM, something “like popcorn in a frying pan.”
Bigelow Aerospace explained on Twitter that it’s good news because the “pops” are the sounds of the internal straps releasing as the module expanded.
“A welcome and expected step in the process,” the Las Vegas-based space firm said.
During the next week, leak checks will be performed on BEAM to ensure its structural integrity, NASA said, adding that hatch opening and Williams’ first entrance will take place about a week after leak checks are complete.
BEAM was launched to the orbiting lab last month in an effort to test and validate expandable habitat technology.
Inflatable habitats are designed to take up less room on a spacecraft, but provide greater volume for living and working in space once expanded, according to NASA.
This first test of an inflatable 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, it added. (Xinhua)