After Thursday’s attempt to inflate an expandable habitat fell a little flat, NASA will try again on Saturday.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) flew to the International Space Station packed up in the trunk of a Dragon capsule and was installed on the station in April. On Thursday NASA attempted to inflate it to its full size, but things didn’t quite go as planned. The structure didn’t grow as large as NASA expected, and it grew more in diameter than in length, which didn’t fit expectations. Meanwhile, pressure was building up. To be on the safe side, NASA halted the expansion, to re-evaluate.
BEAM actually expanded by a few inches as it sat overnight, “which is a very positive sign,” said NASA’s Jason Crusan during a teleconference today. NASA and Bigelow have decided to decompress the structure and allow the materials relax and shift around.
Thanks to a SpaceX explosion last year, BEAM’s original trip to the space station was delayed, leaving the module packed up in storage for 15 months. That long wait could be interfering with the deployment, says Bigelow’s Lisa Kauke. “The longer [the materials] are packed, the more time it takes for the shape to relax. Depressurizing today and returning to pressurization tomorrow can only be helpful, to help those materials to relax.”
Never before has an inflatable structure been attached to and inflated on the ISS, so scientists weren’t sure what to expect or what the deployment process would look like.
The groups will attempt to inflate BEAM again on Saturday live on NASA TV. The time is still TBD.
There is currently no risk to the station or the crew. Crusan says he is confident they’ll manage to fully inflate the habitat, and that right now NASA is just trying to figure out the best and safest way to do so.