Part inflatable room and very small part bouncy castle, the International Space Station (ISS) is about to take delivery of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM for short.
The specially designed habitat will arrive at the ISS next week in compact form before being inflated. The living pod is the result of years of collaboration between NASA, which came up with the original design, and private space firm Bigelow, which has invested in its development.
The inflatable room will be occupied for brief periods by ISS astronauts for testing purposes, Space.com reported. If it functions well, BEAM's light weight and compact design could lead to the development of larger habitation structures for future crews heading into deep space.
BEAM expands to five times the size of its uninflated state to offer 565 cubic feet of space, and allows for multiple pods to be attached to create a much larger living space.
Tests during its two-year trial will include learning how its several layers of tough fabric, which include a bullet-resistant polymer called Vectran, stand up to hazards such as space debris, while on-board sensors will monitor how it deals with environmental factors such as temperature and radiation.
BEAM will arrive at the ISS as part of the next SpaceX cargo resupply mission scheduled for liftoff on April 8.
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