Planned for today inflating BEAM expandable module by Bigelow Aerospace was suspended due the unrecognized problems with expanding module.
BEAM shortcut stands for Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. It is experimental module developed by Bigelow Aerospace under partnership with NASA; result of this cooperation would be new technology which could be easily adopted for International Space Station as additional and low cost modules for extending ISS capabilities. From the Bigelow Aerospace perspective – creating in future commercial space station placed on LEO. BEAM was delivered to International Space Station inside unpressurized section of Dragon spacecraft launched on April 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral AFS. Dragon CRS-8 docked to ISS Harmony module Earth facing berthing port on April 10, 2016. BEAM was extracted and attached to Tranquility module on April 16, 2016. Objective for today’s operation was inflating BEAM to expand it from 2.4 m diameter and 1.7 lengths to original size of 3.2 m of diameter and 4 m of length.
For today’s operation NASA astronaut Jeff Williams was designated as operator of BEAM control console. In the cooperation with NASA mission control center in Houston and Bigelow Aerospace experts’ team, he was responsible for controlling process of inflation. Operation started around one and a half of hours later then it was previously planned; Jeff Williams started small igniters which cut straps keeping BEAM in folded position, next he turned on Ascent Vent Valve which kept vacuum inside of BEAM and at last release bolts keeping BEAM in folded position. At 11:10 GMT inflating process was started and pressure inside BEAM started to rise just after Jeff Williams manually opened a Pressure Equalization Valve placed on console close to side berthing port of Tranquility, where BEAM was attached. Unfortunately increasing air pressure caused only little movement of the module. Due the planned long duration of the operation it take over one hour to spot that further expanding is not in fact in progress. According to Bigelow more was spotted, with cameras installed outside the ISS, what could potentially interrupt extending process. At 11:38 GMT module still was not expanding correctly. At 12:08 GMT Jeff Williams increased amount of air by opening a valve for additional 3 seconds again at 12:11 GMT for 1 second and for the last time at 12:14 GMT also for 1 second. Unfortunately BEAM failed to expand. Data from sensors were analyzed by specialists from Bigelow Aerospace but no further action was recommended except resuming further expanding for today. At 12:30 GMT control center ordered to resume operation. Next attempt will be probably performed tomorrow or later if data evaluating will bring other conclusions. After few hours spent with BEAM, Jeff Williams was allowed to return to scheduled tasks.
On picture above: BEAM during attaching to ISS.