The space station is getting a new module this weekend.
At 2:15am on Saturday, April 16, mission controllers at NASA will take control of the International Space Station’s giant robot arm (Canadarm2). Using it, they will remove the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (“BEAM”) from the “trunk” of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, which is currently docked at the station. The robot arm will move the module from the capsule to the station’s Tranquility node, where it will be attached to the station by astronauts. From there the astronauts will begin procedures to expand the module for use.
After about a week after it’s attached, astronauts will make their first entry into the station’s newest module. The BEAM is an experimental prototype for expandable habitats, which could be used to add on to the existing space station or in a modular fashion to construct new ones. BEAM will remain a part of the space station for 2 years, after which time it will be detached and allowed to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
The goal of the two year mission is to learn how well these types of expandable habitats perform in space, and monitored to see how well they protect against space hazards such as radiation and micro-impacts from small particles in space. NASA and private companies are interested in this type of expandable habitat because they’re lightweight and less expensive to build than traditional space station construction.