back to article Inflatable space podule set for orbital trial

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is set to travel to the International Space Station later this week, ahead of a two-year trial to see how it performs in the rigours of outer space. The 1,400kg inflatable podule is currently packed into the SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft which will depart Cape Canaveral Air …

  1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    If they don't make the astronauts inflate it by blowing into a tube until they go red in the face, I shall be very disappointed. Particularly if one lets go, and it flies off round the solar system making a farting noise that nobody can hear...

    1. JeffyPoooh

      "...inflate it..."

      Erm... It's a hard vacuum on the outside.

      It shouldn't take much effort to inflate, assuming that the breathless astronaut isn't also exposed to a hard vacuum.

      "3, 2, 1, GO!"

      [Contestant removes thumb from inlet tube; air flows in; the module self-inflates]

  2. Vulch

    Bigelow have launched two inflatable modules already, Genesis 1 was still fine when the electronics failed 2.5 years after launch, as was Genesis 2. Both are still up there and are big enough to be visible when they pass overhead.

  3. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    BEAM / B330

    Interesting. Information on the Bigelow pages is a bit thin, though.

    Does anybody know why the storage on the B330 is divided into 'Storage Bags' and 'Long Term Storage'? And what is supposed to be stored in the two storage systems?

    1. Rich 11

      Re: BEAM / B330


    2. Justicesays

      Re: BEAM / B330

      Presumably the bags are easily accessible , resealable equivalents of lockers.

      Long term storage would then be to store boxes of stuff you might later use to refill the bags.

    3. cray74

      Re: BEAM / B330

      Does anybody know why the storage on the B330 is divided into 'Storage Bags' and 'Long Term Storage'? And what is supposed to be stored in the two storage systems?

      There's a long history of folding and soft-sided storage in US spaceflight. I couldn't find an example photo from the shuttle, but the ISS uses them in several places. For example, here's the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM, aka orbital walk-in closet). Soft bags stuffed with hard cargo are around the astronauts on three sides, while unused bags are flattened on the floor. Another view of the stowage bags, which are kept in folding hard racks.

      More on the evolution of soft stowage

      For an inflating space station module, collapsible storage bags makes sense - they can be folded with the rest of the module, and folded out of the way. A good choice for short-term items.

      I'm not sure what the plan is for Bigelow's "long term storage" is, though. The station uses soft stowage bags for long- and short-term storage.

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: BEAM / B330

        Thanks for the info & the links!

  4. Rich 11


    In its compacted state, BEAM is 2.16 metres long, 2.36 metres in diameter and with a volume of just 3.6m3. Once attached to the orbiting outpost's Tranquility node, it'll be pumped up to its full size of 4.01 metres in length, with a diameter of 3.23 metres and an capacious volume of 16m3.

    Are these exterior dimensions and interior volumes? If not, they're out by a factor of 2 or more.

    1. Robert Helpmann??

      Re: Huh?

      Yes, the way the specs are presented is a bit misleading, but it very much looks like the external dimensions are given for length and diameter while the volume given is for the internal capacity. This is nothing new, though as the IT industry has been doing that for years in describing drive capacities in terms of unformatted vs usable space.

      1. Justicesays

        Re: Huh?

        Those are the most practical measurements for it's intended use.

        How much space it takes up on my rocket/attached to my space station.

        How much usable volume I get for my astronauts.

        1. Ru'

          Re: Huh?

          But what's the point of the internal volume-when-emsmallened if that's the case (and the external dimensions when embiggened)?

          1. Justicesays

            Re: Huh?

            Presumably you could pre-fill it with stuff (although it looks like it comes with an array of gas tanks for inflating it which must take up some/most of the compressed volume?).

            As for the external dimensions, you need to know if/where it's going to fit on your space station, not get in the way of the panels/canadarm/other modules etc.

      2. Down not across

        Re: Huh?

        This is nothing new, though as the IT industry has been doing that for years in describing drive capacities in terms of unformatted vs usable space.

        Annoying as it might be, it is because drive manufacturers report size in decimal SI units (the prefix being 1000 and not binary 1024 that you might expect).

        Disclaimer: I don't agree with drive vendors choice either, but it does have some arithmetic merit.

  5. Ru'

    Podule is a great word. That is all.

    1. Darryl

      I prefer 'Outer Space Bouncy Castle'

      1. Killing Time

        Err, unfortunately I don't think that description would make it past the PR department given recent bouncy castle incidents. It would give Outer Space a bad name...

    2. Alan J. Wylie

      "Podule is a great word"

      The Acorn Archimedes used to have podules.

      And here's a Not The Nine O'Clock News video of Rowan Atkinson and his "small translator podule"

    3. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re podule

      isn't this rather a loondule?

  6. Chairo

    16 square meter?

    Wow, in Tokyo that would be enough space for a whole family.

    1. Old Handle

      Re: 16 square meter?

      16 cubic meters. That's actually significantly smaller in practice. The Japanese aren't that short.

  7. Killing Time

    Falcon 9

    Any word on a booster landing attempt? They will plant the barge landing one of these days...

    1. Vulch

      Re: Falcon 9

      Supposed to be going for a barge landing again, I can't see anything about the ship having set sail yet though.

      1. JeffyPoooh

        Re: Falcon 9

        Vulch: "...I can't see anything about the ship having set sail yet though."

        They're still loading on the floaty fiber-optic cables.

        1. Vulch

          Re: Falcon 9

          Ah, that's how they're going to get reliable video of the landing. Cunning!

  8. Scott Broukell


    Mmm, I'm not so sure this isn't just a cheap way to maintain ISS altitude?

  9. A K Stiles


    Have a quick word Lester, maybe they'll let you staple LOHAN to the outside of the thing?

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: LOHAN

      Just as likely as getting FAA approval ;-)

  10. Justicesays

    Looks like...

    They can get Dave up there..they appear to be watching Top Gear!

  11. gerryg

    International Space Station?

    Are these air bags from Bulgaria?

    It's OK, I'm not here very often these days

  12. andreas koch



  13. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Security doors?

    Will there be ground control of the doors into this podule or are astronauts wanting a bit "me time" likely to think "Ooooohhh, a big empty room!"

  14. Someone_Somewhere

    I dunno

    There's just something about any sentence including the words 'inflatable' and 'spacestation'* that strikes me as being inadvisable and likely to preceed another sentence including the word 'tragedy'.

    * yes, yes, or 'podule'

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: I dunno

      Because it's lighter than metal, I'd imagine that the walls of an inflatable stucture will actually be thicker. And certainly easier to sandwich different layers of materials - so you'll end up with something that's more damage resistant. Being able to deform on small impact is also good, as it absorbs energy before breakage.

      Plus, if you're dealing with stuff hitting you at orbital velocities, it doesn't really matter what you use, you'll get a hole. You've then either got to be able to patch it, or just close the airlock, and move to another module.

      1. Killing Time

        Re: I dunno

        Also, you are not necessarily surrendering material strength in comparison to metals. Polyaramides, (AKA Kevlar) can resist more force in the tensile mode than steel, fibres of this type would be under tensile load in an inflated configuration and therefore exploiting their inherent properties.

        You also potentially have greater material strength and resilience due to layering and orientation of the fibres to resist the extent of impact damage.

        An inflatable structure might not appear at first view to instill a great amount of confidence yet pound for pound probably provides much enhanced performance than existing construction materials and configurations.

        They are spending serious time and money on it therefore there must be a compelling case to pursue the solution.

  15. Someone_Somewhere

    Re: I dunno

    I wasn't thinking about things impacting it externally, so much as a jagged toenail (or a clumsilly handled breadknife) ripping it from the inside, but both posters' points are well-taken :)

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