Just days after arriving at the ISS, NASA astronaut and Expedition 52 Flight Engineer Randy Bresnik got to visit the usually sealed-off BEAM module.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module is a technology demonstrator designed to test the effectiveness of an "inflatable" habitat as an alternative or supplement to traditional rigid modules. Astronauts periodically enter the module to collect various data points such as temperature, radiation exposure, condensation, etc.
BEAM was launched to the outpost back in April 2016 aboard SpaceX's CRS-8 Dragon cargo mission. It was attached to the aft port of the Tranquility module before being expanded, or "inflated" in May 2016.
The module is expect to stay firmly attached to that location for a total of two years. Sometime in 2018, unless the small closet-sized room is permitted an extended stay, BEAM will be detached from its location using the robotic Canadarm2. It will then be jettisoned away from the station to burn up in the atmosphere.
According to NASA, BEAM could lead to the development of future expandable habitation structures for crews traveling beyond low-Earth orbit.
In fact, Bigelow Aerospace, which built BEAM, plans to use the technology for its own private space stations as early as the beginning of the next decade. The company has even offered to send a larger module called the Expandable Bigelow Advanced Station Enhancement, or XBASE, to the ISS as part of the U.S. space agency's second phase of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP.
XBASE, based on the company's B330 spacecraft design, would have 330 cubic feet of livable volume and be used as test module to advance approaches to deep space missions and serve as a staging point for commercial space stations in low-Earth orbit.