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NASA To Attach First Inflatable Habitat To The ISS This Weekend

This weekend a monumental event will take place on the International Space Station (ISS), when the first-ever inflatable habitat will be attached.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was launched just last week on the SpaceX rocket that also performed a successful barge landing. This module is revolutionary, in that it launched in a compact form, but will inflate to more than five times its size by being pumped full of air.

On Saturday, April 16, the action is set to begin, and it will be broadcast live on NASA TV. At 2:15 a.m. ET (7:15 a.m. BST), controllers on the ground at NASAs Johnson Space Center in Houston will use the stations robotic Canadarm2 to remove BEAM from the trunk of SpaceXs Dragon vehicle, where it is currently stored, and attachit to the Tranquility module on the ISS. The whole process should finish by 6:15 a.m. ET (11:15 a.m. BST).

It should be noted that, although the module is being attached, it wont actually be inflated yet. Thats set to take place at an unspecified date in late May, after which astronauts will enter the habitat for the first time, with it remaining attached to the ISS for two years before being sent to burn up in the atmosphere.

Various sensors will monitor BEAM, including the amount of radiation inside, and the effect of micrometeoroids hitting its outer layers. However, its unlikely BEAM will be used for much else other than testing out its capabilities. NASA has no plans for astronauts to regularly use it as an extra room on the ISS at the moment.

When the inflation takes place in May, it should last no more than a couple of hours. The module will expand from 2.1 meters (7 feet)wide and 2.4 meters (8feet) in length to 3 meters (10 feet) wide and 4 meters (13 feet) in length which increases its total volume five times.

If the module is attached without a hitch, this will have been a good week for Bigelow Aerospace. Yesterday, the company announced that it had partnered with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to fly a more advanced inflatable habitat, the B330, by 2020. This will either be attached to the ISS, or fly alone in orbit, an important step towards building a private space station or perhaps a space hotel that paying customers can visit.

So tune in on Saturday, andsee a bit of space history being made.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/inflatable-habitat-be-attached-iss-first-time-weekend

Watch Live As NASA Inflates The First Expandable Room On The ISS

(Update: NASA has put the expansion on hold for today, after they ran into a few problems)

Weve had to wait quite a while but finally, one monthafter launching, NASA is about to inflate the first ever expandable habitat on the International Space Station (ISS).

Its a pretty momentous event. This sort of technology may one day be used on missions to the Moon, Mars, or beyond, because inflatable modules can be launched in a compact form, saving space at launch.

All the fun is set to begin at 5.30am EDT (10.30am BST) today, when NASA starts airing footage from the ISS on NASA TV, which weve embedded below. Then, at 6.10am EDT (11.10am BST), the expansion is set to begin. Operations on the station are being run by NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.

This habitat is called the Bigelow Expandable Aerospace Module (BEAM), developed by Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace. Theyve launched two demonstration modules before (Genesis 1 and 2, in 2006 and 2007), but this is the first inflatable module to be attached to the ISS.

BEAM will remain attached to the ISS for two years, during which time astronauts will enter the module several times a year. It wont be used for much, though; at the moment, the only plans are to install sensors inside to see how the inflatable room handles prolonged spaceflight. These sensors will monitor the temperature and radiation levels inside, while also monitoring for impacts from bits of space debris.

However, its still set to be a hugely important moment in the history of spaceflight. The astronauts wont actually enter the habitat for the first time until Thursday, June 2, but make sure you tune in today to catch the start of the action.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/watch-live-nasa-inflates-first-expandable-room-iss