Last Saturday, May 28, the world's first expandable space habitat was successfully deployed at the International Space Station (ISS).
The new time-lapse video shows NASA astronaut Jeff Williams working with Earth-based teams at the American space agency's Johnson Space Center and Bigelow Aerospace to inflate the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM).
A valve injected air into the BEAM module in short bursts. Williams needed to open the valve 25 times for 2 minutes and 27 seconds to inflate the module to its full capacity.
The time-lapse video shows the BEAM module expanding and stabilizing in between the short bursts.
"It sounds sort of like popcorn in a frying pan starts up," said Williams. According to the NASA's flight controllers, they expected the sound. It indicated that the BEAM module's expansion was proceeding as planned.
All the while, the teams at Bigelow Aerospace and NASA consistently monitored the internal pressure. After 7 hours, the BEAM module finally reached its full-size extent.
The BEAM module's final length was 158 inches with a final diameter of 127 inches.
On May 26, NASA first attempted to inflate the BEAM module but the event was cancelled after the teams came across "higher-than-expected" forces during the manual expansion.
"We ran into higher forces than we believe our models predicted, and we approached pressures that weren't part of our models," said Jason Crusan, NASA's director of Advanced Exploration Systems.
NASA resumed the task on Saturday and successfully completed the inflation. The BEAM module will stay with the ISS for two years, during which teams will test the new technology.
Astronauts will stay inside the module about three to four times annually to study how the BEAM module can stand up to space debris, solar radiation and extreme temperatures while on the job.
The new space habitat was built by Bigelow Aerospace. The enormous module can be folded like a parachute, which greatly reduces its transportable size to just one-fifth of its full capacity when inflated.
Apart from its compact features, the BEAM module is also made up of lighter materials. This helps in further lowering the costs of sending it to space.