Flexi-space room expansion suspended
The deployment of a new, expandable "room" on the International Space Station was suspended on Thursday when it failed to open up as expected. Astronaut Jeff Williams began inflating the module, but controllers eventually told him to stand down after 3.5 hours of extremely slow progress.
Installed in a compact form, the vessel is supposed to stretch to 4m in length with a volume of 16 cu m. But as Williams squirted air into the module, it stretched only a few cm. Engineers will review the data and hope to resuming the expansion, but Nasa said later in the day that any such attempt would not take place on Friday.
A briefing on the status of the operation is scheduled for 12:00 US eastern time (17:00 BST) on Friday. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module is a demonstrator for the type of habitats that may be used to build future orbiting labs.
It is possible such rooms could even make for more living space during the many months it would take humans to travel to Mars. The Beam was taken up to the station last month and connected to a berthing point on the Tranquility module.
If and when the astronauts can get the new room filled out, it will undergo two years of tests. Engineers want to know if the structure is as robust as traditional metal modules.
Astronauts will not actually go in the Beam that often, given its experimental nature. And when they do, it will be to have a quick look around to check its integrity. Nothing will be stored in the room, either.
Most of the time, the hatch to the Beam will remain closed and controllers on the ground will monitor its status through a series of embedded sensors. These will track temperature, pressure, radiation and impacts.
Already, Bigelow has a rocket booked for 2020, to take up a BA-330 model, which, as the designation intimates, has a volume of 330 cubic metres (12,000 cu ft).