SpaceX To Launch First Space Station Mission Since Explosion, With Inflatable Habitat In Tow

Targeting April 8 to return to the International Space Station

Falcon 9 Rocket
Falcon 9 Rocket
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket takes offSpaceX, via Wikimedia Commons

Last June, during a routine cargo launch to the International Space Station, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket blew up two minutes after takeoff, destroying thousands of pounds of supplies. A faulty strut was to blame. After spending a few months on the ground, SpaceX has fixed the problem and resumed launching things into space. Now it looks like they're ready to go back to delivering supplies to the space station, too.

SpaceX's return to the ISS is targeted for Friday, April 8 at 4:43PM Eastern. The Dragon capsule will carry up supplies and science experiments--including, notably, a test version of Bigelow's inflatable space habitat. The experimental habitat will ride compressed in the Dragon's trunk, then expand to its full size in space. Attached to the space station, it'll add about 565 cubic feet of space to the station.

inflatable habitat module
BEAM Me Up
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) inflatable habitat is expected to launch to the space station on April 8.NASA/Bill Ingalls

While it's onboard, the BEAM module (BEAM stands for Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) will be monitored to see if it maintains a stable temperature and pressure, and to make sure it protects against radiation and debris impacts. Astronauts will occasionally go inside the module to take measurements, but it will be closed off most of the time.

If the BEAM holds up well in space, it could pave the way for companies and rich people to send their own personal space stations into orbit around the Earth. Further out, inflatable habitats might provide living spaces for astronauts on the moon and Mars.

The Dragon capsule will return to Earth in May, bringing back biological samples from the space station, including some of the ones taken by astronaut Scott Kelly during his year-long stay in space. The experiment will help determine the health effects of long-term spaceflight.