We know something more- positive conclusions after teleconference with NASA and Bigelow Aerospace which took place today at 18:oo GMT.
One we know for sure – BEAM is fine and probably problems during inflating which appeared yesterday are not serious. First of all during last night, BEAM which was still under slow inflating process started to extract. After last night NASA and Bigelow Aerospace noticed that module increased its diameter from 243 cm to 261 cm and length increased for about 3 cm. It is small progress, but clearly shows that probably nothing blocks module permanently. It is worth to remind that air pressure which was used yesterday was at 10% level of final pressure which is designed to keep module unfolded so it is on very low level and even light force could slow extracting. According to Bigelow Aerospace problems with extending module could be caused by fabric friction and its stiffness. BEAM remained packed before flight for prolonged time and outer material, which is based on layers of insulating foam covered with special fabric, could simply became more stiff than it was predicted. Bigelow Aerospace representative mentioned also that material is vulnerable for memory effect – it means that after certain period of time spent in folded position it quite hard to bring it to original shape. Present state of BEAM is not showing any signs of further problems like leaks or any other unstable behavior.
Tomorrow at 13:00 GMT NASA will perform another attempt of inflating BEAM starting from level which was reached on Thursday; this time air pressure will be gradually increased. During whole crew day BEAM will be inflated. In case lack of any progress BEAM will be deflated. NASA and Bigelow Aerospace claim that this procedure should help in straightening folded material. NASA is not denying that in case of another failed attempt tomorrow, it will repeat procedure of inflating/deflating on Sunday. Due the scheduled for Monday robotic activities linked with deploying Cubesat satellites from Kibo module with robotic arm, NASA would like to take a week brake from BEAM experiment. Main objective of this step is to avoid risk of tearing outer shell of BEAM remaining under inflating; tearing outer shell and rapid leakage of air could cause changing position of the ISS. That is why in case of failure, BEAM will be deflated to reduce pressure inside before Monday morning. If next 48 hours will not bring success, most probable time for next inflating would be in two weeks’ time.
NASA considers BEAM useful even in case remaining folded – part of experiments referring to durability of flexible materials could be performed without inflating; every action performed with BEAM gives number of data useful during future missions with expandable modules. For the moment folded BEAM is not any threat for ISS and probably anyway it will remain attached at least for next two years. During following months crew members will perform next attempts to deploy it correctly. NASA is not planning any additional activities in case of failed deployment – for sure no EVA is predicted to maintain or examine module in case of failed extraction.
On picture above: BEAM during packing.