26Oct2017

NASA Tries Inflatable Room On Space Station, Likes It

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins inspects the Bigelow Aerospace Expandable Activity Module. It originally was designed for two years on-station, but it may now last for five more years.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins inspects the Bigelow Aerospace Expandable Activity Module. It originally was designed for two years on-station, but it may now last for five more years.

NASA has tried Bigelow’s expandable habitat on its International Space Station, and the agency likes it. Installed now for more than a year on the station, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module has passed key structural tests.

Engineers now believe it will be capable of surviving in low Earth orbit for a longer period of time. So this week, NASA announced that it intends to extend the lifetime of the station’s new, expandable room. Initially, the module was to be attached to the station for two years, but NASA says it wants to extend the lifetime for three years from now, with two additional one-year options. The Bigelow habitat, therefore, could remain on-station well into the early 2020s.

For now, at least, the module won’t exactly have a glamorous purpose on-station. NASA will use the additional space to store up to 130 “cargo transfer bags,” bags of various sizes first used for storage in space shuttle mid-deck lockers and later used to transfer cargo to the space station. One of the real problems on the orbiting laboratory is excess stuff, such as these bags, that clutter up workspaces. Now astronauts will be able to stow dozens of them in the expandable module.

Over the longer term, it will benefit Bigelow Aerospace to have the module on-station for several more years. Not only can the Nevada-based company collect more data about the attachment’s performance in microgravity, it can continue to demonstrate to NASA the viability of expandable habitats for longer-duration spaceflight.

Bigelow is part of a competition among a number of aerospace firms to develop a new in-space habitat for NASA, which the space agency may ultimately assemble in an orbit around the Moon as a base for deep-space exploration. Whereas a lot of the other concepts are theoretical, Bigelow has the advantage of a working prototype now serving NASA’s needs. Source:Ars Technica

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