back to article NASA prepares to unpack pump-up space podule

NASA is preparing to unpack Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) - described as "first human-rated expandable structure that may help inform the design of deep space habitats" - which arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) last Sunday aboard a SpaceX Dragon resupply vehicle. The Dragon approaching the ISS last …

  1. cray74

    Full Circle

    Interesting full circle story. NASA develops inflatable Transhab for ISS accommodations module, but bins it and sells the technology to Bigelow. Bigelow develops it further, launches Genesis I and II (fortunately avoiding accidentally terraforming Earth), and then convinces NASA to host an inflatable module on the ISS.

    1. Simon Harris

      Re: Full Circle

      Wasn't that a project to launch Phil Collins into orbit?

      In space no one can hear you bang drums.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Full Circle

        "Wasn't that a project to launch Phil Collins into orbit?"

        With the London Philharmonic Orchestra, no less. Swirlin' about in 'uge clear plastic bubbles...

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Re: Full Circle

          I think that idea was already floated in the original von Braun series ("Across the Space Frontier") - inflatable, rotating ring stations with added plating outside as needed (it wouldn't be a real Space Nazi fortress without plating. right?)

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Full Circle

      " inflatable Transhab " oh , i thought you were going back further . Didnt the North American settlers have something similar to that on their wagons ?

  2. phuzz Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Thanks for putting the time in GMT elReg, it's nice not to have to go work out what timezone a launch is supposed to be in.

    If I'm around on saturday morning I'll be streaming this, there's something very restful about watching things being done in space.

  3. Mikel

    Nice gear

    For the long trip to Mars we'll need something light but roomy. And spinnable would be ideal.

    On orbit those tourist flights are going to want a hotel to stay in as well, and the ISS should be reserved for their science work.

    1. Vic

      Re: Nice gear

      For the long trip to Mars we'll need something light but roomy

      I'm not so sure this qualifies...

      Its packed volume is some 9.5m3. We are given its volume when inflated as 16m3.

      Assuming this is its internal volume, that's not very roomy compared to its initial volume...


      1. fishman

        Re: Nice gear

        "Assuming this is its internal volume, that's not very roomy compared to its initial volume..."

        This is a test unit, so it might not reflect the sort of volumes they can get with "production" units. There may be minimum sizes dictated by the rigid end where the hatch is and the rack holding the cannisters.

  4. TeeCee Gold badge


    ....will return to the module for a few hours several times a year....

    Yeah, right. If they haven't got a ball up there somewhere and aren't in there using the empty space to thrash out rules for some sort of 3D volleyball-alike at every opportunity I'll be amazed.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Really?

      They wont be. Mostly because there are no provisions for life support set up to keep the thing permanently habitable. Just having the hatch open isn't enough, you need to have a way to keep clean fresh air moving in and scrubbing the CO2 out of the environment. This particular module doesn't have anything provided for that long term. For the short visits they'll most likely set up some air hoses to pump fresh air in, but those are cumbersome, get in the way and are prone to failure.

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: Really?

        16m² air (and maybe a portable fan to twirl it around a bit) should be more than enough for an hour or so of privacy every now and then.

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Really?

          Unless you are actively replacing/scrubbing it, 16m^2 of air isn't all that much.

          1. Vic

            Re: Really?

            Unless you are actively replacing/scrubbing it, 16m^2 of air isn't all that much.

            Well, 16m3 is 16Ml.

            If that's normobaric air[1], you could exhale 160Kl of CO2 before hitting 0.01bar ppCO2. Whilst that's about as far as you'd want to push it, that's >50,000 breaths[2], which at 1 breath/s gives you the better part of 15 hours before things become quite uncomfortable[3].

            It might be usable...


            [1] I have no idea what pressure they intend to use, nor what gas they intend using. But this is a reasonable starting point - the volumes I've used relate to normobaric pressure, and the gas isn't really relevant...

            [2] A properly *full* breath is around 4.5l, but a resting breath is less than 2l. I've used 3l as a "moderate" breath for this calculation - it won't be far wrong.

            [3] Hypercapnia is properly horrible. Trust me on this - I've suffered it. At hyperbaric pressures, the most significant symptom is panic; even when you know (logically) that safety is only a few feet away, you still feel like life has ended, and you might as well give up now. Maintaining coherent thought is surprisingly difficult.

      2. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Really?

        Actually, there does seem to be some provisions for life support. There's an air hose already installed in the ground based mockup and it appears in some of the promotional images of the orbital module.

  5. Roger Greenwood

    There's only one soundtrack to this . .

    Brothers and sisters!

    Pump up the volume

    Pump that beam

  6. geoffslea

    Well I'll be a monkeys uncle

    Well I'll be a monkeys uncle, I should have put a patent on this idea as per my post 8th Oct 2014

    and my email to NASA, not such a silly idea after all !!!

    8Oct 2014 Anonymous Coward


    Anonymous Coward


    I wrote to NASA years ago about a dream I had where I was an astronaut, during a space walk I bolted eight quadrants together forming two large discs, about 50' across which were attached to a large ring of crumpled up fabric/foil. Then by pressing a series of buttons a triple walled sausage like foil tube was first inflated on the inside turning the object into a cylinder 100' long and then the next buttons release expanding foam into the internal wall. this formed a hardened tubular structure. Lastly the external wall was filled with water which froze to form a hard outer shell. The section of disc I was working was fitted with a twin door (inner and outer) and porthole, through which climbed, this was the air lock. Once in side I removed the suit and was free to work inside. Oh and the other end of the cylinder had a docking ring to let the shuttle connect to transport equipment on board. looks like I've missed the boat on this one.

    And I thought I was crazy??? :o)

    1. Beachrider

      Uncle, you wrote about history...

      @Geoff, This Bigelow unit is clearly derived from NASA's "TransHab" research in the 1990s. The House of Representatives actually voted a resolution to have NASA 'STOP' developing it and sell the idea to private business in 2000.

      That is really the path from basic research to this testable-technology.

  7. ElectricFox

    I've just had a weird vision of an astronaut on a spacewalk furiously operating a bicycle pump wondering why nothing is happening. Too much caffeine for me, I think...

    1. Stoneshop


      The pump needs to be enclosed in a membrane, attached to a tank with compressed air or a long hose dangling down into the athmosphere.

      (the cape with "Bicycle Repair Man")

    2. Anonymous John

      Now that's just silly. They'll be using a car foot pump.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Bicycle Repair Man! Will he replace putinistic Russian engines by True-Blue American ones before it is too late???

  8. x 7

    so why is it going to burn up when ditched in two years?

    Its an inflatable balloon, so surely it will just float in the air? After all, they must be using helium to inflate it, otherwise it would be too heavy and too much of a fire risk

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Ballons tend to not like moving through atmosphere at 37000 km/h

      1. Ginger

        Big metal and kevlar ballons especially

    2. John 104

      Actually, being filled with helium, it will slip out of the grasp of the CANADARM before they are done mounting it and it will slowly float away while the astronauts on the ISS cry over their lost toy.

    3. Stoneshop

      Two problems

      To have it float in air (at sea level and 293K), it would have to weigh a bit under 20 kg, not the 1400 kg that it is. And, as mentioned already, there's the re-entry speed.

    4. cray74

      After all, they must be using helium to inflate it, otherwise it would be too heavy

      The 1400kg of mass is in the very thick (over 30cm), multi-layered walls, not the air or helium filling. Inflatable doesn't automatically mean "thin-walled and light."

      and too much of a fire risk

      Inflatable also doesn't automatically mean flammable. The inner layers are Nomex for fire resistance, followed by 3 separate sealing layers, rip-control layers, and then the outer Nextel ceramic fiber layers spaced with foam layers. The outer layers provide insulation and Whipple-type shielding, per the fifth figure here.

      Here's the scheme of 24 to 36 layers used in the Bigelow Genesis modules and planned BA 330, which stay close to the Transhab arrangement.

      And to answer your original question: it's an almost-empty module occupying a docking port on the station that could host future modules or visiting spacecraft. Two years is sufficient to gather on-orbit observations of materials performance not possible with the unmanned Genesis demonstrators.

  9. Matthew Taylor

    Cue M.A.R.S.

    Pump up the podule,

    Pump up the podule,

    Pump up the podule,

    Dance! Dance!

  10. Dave Bell

    There's several things I can see being done for this trial. As well as the occasional visits, I would expect they'd have a good look at the outside skin. And two years long enough that they could send up a decent air-circulation fan, a few gadgets such as a blood oximeter, and have somebody spend a few hours in the module while watched for ill effects. Most of the existing cargo modules can't be used to land cargo, and they're loaded with waste that gets burned up on re-entry, and the same could happen with this.

    And while the astronauts would have to be careful, I can see it being used by them to get a quiet few hours.


    For guitar practice...

  11. Sleep deprived

    No window?

    Except perhaps a small skylight in the hatch door :(

    1. Kharkov
      Paris Hilton

      Re: No window?

      Well, I'm sure they can just open the door and stand in the doorway, looking out into space, with a cup of coffee in hand... (Breezy? Ha! You should should see my place up in the hills...)

      While I'm sure the thing won't go 'pop' if it's holed, the 'slowly deflate' bit could use a bit more explaining. One atmosphere's pressure inside, small hole, and surely the air is going to find other places to be rather quickly?

      Does it have self-sealing ability? Well feel free to say so, El Reg...

      And the Paris Hilton icon because, well, who wouldn't want her up there?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: No window?

        And the Paris Hilton icon because, well, who wouldn't want her up there?

        Me, for one.

        1. x 7

          Re: No window?

          "And the Paris Hilton icon because, well, who wouldn't want her up there?"

          wouldn't there be an explosion risk from her implants? Especially in the event of sudden depressurisation

  12. MD Rackham

    A lost opportunity

    Instead of deorbiting it and letting it burn, they should keep it nearby so that after they launch a few more for testing they can use the Candarm to twist them a bit and make space animals.

    Might be a real treat for some astronaut celebrating a birthday on the ISS.

    1. Francis Boyle

      Don't be silly

      You'd need two arms for that.

  13. Pirate Dave Silver badge

    Smithsonian Article

    Smithsonian magazine has an interesting article about Bigelow and BEAM in this month's issue.

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