The experimental habitat attached to the International Space Station is recording warmer interior temperatures than expected – and that’s a good thing.
BEAM, or Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, was developed by Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas and has been docked at the ISS since April. It wasn’t fully inflated until a month later, and updates on its condition have been limited to confirmation of it’s proper attachment and operation.
But now comes word that thermal engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston have found BEAM is registering temperatures a bit warmer than predicted. In a Nov. 21 blog post, the space agency suggests the toastier-than-anticipated interior conditions registered after the habitat was fully inflated “could be due to less contact between the folded layers, providing more heat insulation than we expected.”
Adds NASA JSC BEAM manager Steve Munday: “A colder-than-expected BEAM would have increased the risk of condensation, so we were pleased when Jeff first opened the hatch and found the interior to be bone dry. BEAM is the first of its kind, so we’re learning as we go and this data will improve our structural and thermal models and analyses going forward.”
ISS crewmembers have entered the BEAM a handful of times so far, most recently for two maintenance visits in September. The crew tightened some loose instruments in the interior, rebooted a sensor data-relay laptop and performed tests of the experimental habitat’s structural characteristics.
“BEAM is operating as expected and continues to produce valuable data,” NASA said. “Structural engineers at NASA JSC confirmed that BEAM deployment loads upon the space station were very small and continue to analyze the module’s structural data for comparison with ground tests and models.”
BEAM’s longer-term development is being managed by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division. AES is also involved in the development of habitat’s intended for deep-space habitation, involving Bigelow and several other commercial partners including longstanding NASA contractors Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital ATK.