When sending something into space, it is important to consider how big it is. Something large may be useful in space, but it is no good if it can’t be carried up there by rocket after all. Now NASA is hoping to make the best use of the limited space available by testing expandable modules on the ISS in the hopes that they can be used on future missions to Mars as living and working habitats. These inflatable modules will be getting a lift to the ISS as part of SpaceX’s next resupply mission aboard their Dragon cargo capsule.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, once in space, will be attached to the ISS and then filled with air, causing it to inflate from its packed size of just over five feet in-depth and almost eight in diameter to a far roomier 12 feet deep and over 10 feet in diameter, with pressure equalized with the rest of the station. The deployment won’t be quick, however, as it is the first of its kind and very experimental and a slow inflation will allow any faults to be detected before they become critical.
In order to be considered a success and considered for more deep-space missions, the module will first have to survive two years on the ISS. This won’t be easy and will test the module’s resistance to cosmic radiation, durability and long-term resistance to leaking. To get a taste of what the deployment will look like, NASA has released an animation displaying the inflation of the module (but at a much higher speed than reality.)
Image credit to NASA