NASA scheduled for 28th May 2016 13:00 GMT another attempt of inflating Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. Module attached to Earthed facing Node III (Tranquility) berthing port of International Space Station is first in history habitable inflated module attached to space station.
Success was achieved but with two attempts and prolonged time of inflating. Many hours of Jeff Williams work along with specialists from Houston ground control center were necessary to finish inflating process of BEAM. First attempt performed on Thursday finished with little expansion of the module; reason for slow pace of module’s expansion was caused probably by friction and memory effect of the outer material of BEAM. On Friday NASA decided about deflating module before planned for Saturday next attempt. During teleconference on Friday with specialists from NASA and Bigelow Aerospace it was announced about future of BEAM: next inflation was planned on Saturday with potential next attempt on Sunday.
Again NASA astronaut Jeff Williams was controlling BEAM console inside Node III; he received final “go” from NASA control center in Houston to resume inflating process at 13:00 GMT. Process started when at 13:03 GMT Jeff Williams released valve for 22 seconds. Houston ordered to wait around 10 minutes to check if all the parameters are fine and observe with camera outside the ISS if module started to extend. Specialists in control center decided to open valve for 8 seconds at 13:13 GMT. After this opening Jeff Williams informed about popping sounds at 13:14, 13:15 and 13:16 GMT which were clear sign that module is changing its size and ripstop straps are releasing BEAM. During further minutes part of the BEAM from the side of berthing port started to increase its capacity and push folded part outside. NASA still was monitoring pressure inside module and reported to Jeff Williams, that module changed its length for about 9 inches at 13:24 GMT. Jeff Williams reported to Houston next popping sounds which started to appear every thirty to fourth seconds. At 13:38 GMT Jeff Williams was ordered to open valve for another 3 seconds. After this opening BEAM increased pace of expanding significantly to slow down a little during next ten minutes. At 13:52 GMT Jeff Williams opened valve again for 1 second. During next four openings with last one at 15:45 Jeff Williams gave 44 seconds of air to. Next hours passed with continuous presence of Jeff Williams near BEAM console, reporting to Houston level of the air pressure and opening the valve. BEAM was still expanding its volume but pace of the process was much slower than it was planned by Bigelow Aerospace. Total number of valve openings reached 25 (2 minutes 27 seconds of summed time of inflation) before BEAM started to be considered as fully expanded. At 20:22 GMT Jeff Williams opened valve for further pressurization of BEAM which is necessary to equalize pressure levels of ISS and BEAM. At 20:24 finally Houston control center could see on LCD display on BEAM console “READY” and on pressure multimeter value of 0.022 PSI what was sign that module is fully expanded. Next step was pressurizing BEAM gradually to 14.7 PSI which is nominal air pressure inside International Space Station. At 20:35 GMT Jeff Williams finished checking if previous steps of inflating process were successfully finished and opened valve for final pressurization of BEAM. After over ten minutes, at 20:46 GMT BEAM was pressurized for nominal pressure level as first in history men rated habitable inflated space module, but Houston control center spotted that pressure inside BEAM is higher than inside ISS. Jeff Williams was instructed to open uncap sample port and open sample port valve for 10 seconds to equalize pressure. After that, next step is leak check which will last for next 80 hours. After one week, crew members will check BEAM interior if there is no damages of insulation or debris and will start process of installation battery powered sensors.
On picture above: imagine how long would take inflating module with such enormous sizes…