NASA engineers will begin inflating the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) attached onto the International Space Station (ISS) to full size and they will broadcast the process live.
The expandable module was sent to the ISS last April aboard the SpaceX CRS-8 spaceflight mission. BEAM was attached to the ISS to gather information about space missions and potential space habitats in the future.
Astronauts, led by Jeff Williams, will begin pumping air into BEAM at 5:30 a.m. EDT (9:30 a.m. GMT) on Thursday, May 26. Daylight and video communication will be necessary during the expansion, according to NASA.
The full inflation size of the habitat is about 10 by 13 feet or about the size of a small bedroom. The habitat, however, cannot be used just yet by the astronauts because they still have to monitor and measure its capacity to maintain pressure, temperature and radiation levels against the harsh space environment.
Astronauts will enter, for the first time, on June 2 during the habitat's Tranquility module and just re-visit the module periodically to gather data and analyze its condition.
BEAM will remain attached to the ISS until 2018 and the result of the assessments during this time could spell the success or failure of Bigelow in sending inflatable habitats in space. Particularly the company is developing a bigger habitable module, B330, which will be launched in low-orbit earth by 2020 via its partnership with United Launch Alliance. Bigelow Aerospace is working to commercialize spaceflight.
"Expandable habitats are designed to take up less room on a spacecraft, but provide greater volume for living and working in space once expanded," said NASA in its press release. "This first test of an expandable module will allow investigators to gauge how well the habitat performs and specifically, how well it protects against solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space."
NASA will also host an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit and Q&A on Facebook. Engineers from NASA and Bigelow are encouraging everyone to send in their queries on May 24, 4 p.m. EDT (8 p.m. GMT) on Facebook and at 5 p.m. EDT (9 p.m. GMT) on Reddit.
On May 26, after the module expansion, NASA will conduct a media teleconference at 10 a.m. EDT (2 p.m. GMT) to discuss the technology demonstration. The conference will be hosted by NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems director Jason Crusan and Bigelow Aerospace President Robert Bigelow.
A live teleconference of the mission is also available here.