BEAM inflatable room launches for ISS next week

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, also known as BEAM, will be making its way to the International Space Station per next week's launch. BEAM is an inflatable habitat (a room) designed by Bigelow Aerospace, and it will be attached to the ISS for testing. During its time, astronauts will occupy the habitat for a handful of hours at a time, doing so a few times each year for the next two years. Bigelow's researchers will gather data from the habitat and learn how it holds up in space.

While BEAM is going to the International Space Station for testing, that's not their ultimate intended destinations. Such inflatable habitats are being explored as potential living pods that could be positioned on the ground, with multiple pods being connected to create larger overall living environments. A single BEAM room features 565-cubic feet of space, making it fairly decent sized. When compressed, it is only 105.9 cubic feet.

This particular space mission is going to be purely for testing purposes, with BEAM's integrated sensors feeding data to Bigelow's researchers. The long duration in space will help the team determine how well the habitat holds up over months of exposure to radiation and whether it can adequately withstand impacts from small bits of space debris.

What exactly BEAM is made of is not known, at least to the public, as Bigelow says the materials are proprietary, but that they have been found in testing to meet the ISS standards. The inflatable habitat has big set of requirements to live up to, though, as it is intended for human habitation, and such a goal comes with much larger — and dire — safety requirements.