BEAM Fully Expanded and Pressurized

The space station now hosts the new fully expanded and pressurized Bigelow Expandable Activity Module attached to the Tranquility module. Credit: NASA
The space station now hosts the new fully expanded and pressurized Bigelow Expandable Activity Module attached to the Tranquility module. Click image for larger version. Credit: NASA

BEAM was pressurized May 28 on the International Space Station, where it will remain attached for a two-year test period.

The module measured just over 7 feet long and just under 7.75 feet in diameter in its packed configuration. BEAM now measures more than 13 feet long and about 10.5 feet in diameter to create 565 cubic feet of habitable volume. It weighs approximately 3,000 pounds.

Leak checks are being performed on BEAM to ensure its structural integrity. Hatch opening and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams’ first entrance into BEAM will take place about a week after leak checks are complete.

BEAM is an example of NASA’s increased commitment to partnering with industry to enable the growth of the commercial use of space. The project is co-sponsored by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division and Bigelow Aerospace.

Expandable habitats are designed to take up less room on launch but provide greater volume for living and working in space once expanded. 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.

For more information about BEAM, visit:

BEAM Me Up, Elon: Inflatable Module Sets Off to ISS

By Alyssa Samson

Like a page out of a sci-fi novel, balloon-like rooms might be the future of space habitation. On Friday, April 8th, SpaceX is scheduled to launch the latest technology for space habitats, an inflatable module called Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), created by Bigelow Aerospace. Weighing about 14,000 kilograms, this new space module might hold the key to sustainable, livable space conditions – providing working and residency areas for astronauts with reduced costs.

The 8-foot bundle will travel aboard the Dragon spacecraft for two days, where it will be attached to the International Space Station (ISS) and deployed. The module will be roughly the size of a car or small bedroom. Here is a 2-minute BEAM installation animation:

BEAM will be tested by the ISS for roughly two years. While no astronauts will live in the module while it’s in space, they will periodically inspect it and record data. Scientists will use the designated time to determine its radiation protection capability, transportation effectiveness, as well as the product’s design performance – such as thermal and structural durability. BEAM has been designed with multiple thick layers of fabric to help prevent damage against space debris.

Findings from this two year mission will allow Bigelow engineers to modify the company’s larger model, the B330, which is designed to hold six astronauts and have a lifespan of roughly 20 years.

“The International Space Station is a uniquely suited test bed to demonstrate innovative exploration technologies like the BEAM,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA Headquarters. “Using the station’s resources, we’ll learn how humans can work effectively with this technology in space, as we continue to advance our understanding in all aspects for long-duration spaceflight aboard the orbiting laboratory.”

When the ISS has gathered data from BEAM for two years, the station will then release the module and it will burn up as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere.

Bigelow Aerospace has two inflatable prototypes already launched into space – the Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. Inflatable modules are an attractive option for space habitats because of their cargo efficiency; they are lightweight and conserve fuel. If this mission proves to be successful, inflatable modules might be part of a deep space mission or more.

Have a safe flight, BEAM!

NASA Orders SpaceX Crew Mission to International Space Station

NASA took a significant step Friday toward expanding research opportunities aboard the International Space Station with its first mission order from Hawthorne, California based-company SpaceX to launch astronauts from U.S. soil.

Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida undergoes modifications by SpaceX to adapt it to the needs of the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, which are slated to lift off from the historic pad in the near future. A horizontal integration facility has been constructed near the perimeter of the pad where rockets will be processed for launch prior of rolling out to the top of the pad structure for liftoff. SpaceX anticipates using the launch pad for its Crew Dragon spacecraft for missions to the International Space Station in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Credits: SpaceX

This is the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. The Boeing Company of Houston received its first crew mission order in May.

“It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.”

Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time. The contracts call for orders to take place prior to certification to support the lead time necessary for missions in late 2017, provided the contractors meet readiness conditions.

Commercial crew missions to the space station, on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, will restore America’s human spaceflight capabilities and increase the amount of time dedicated to scientific research aboard the orbiting laboratory.

SpaceX’s crew transportation system, including the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, has advanced through several development and certification phases. The company recently performed a critical design review, which demonstrated the transportation system has reached a sufficient level of design maturity to work toward fabrication, assembly, integration and test activities.

“The authority to proceed with Dragon’s first operational crew mission is a significant milestone in the Commercial Crew Program and a great source of pride for the entire SpaceX team,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. “When Crew Dragon takes NASA astronauts to the space station in 2017, they will be riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown. We’re honored to be developing this capability for NASA and our country.”

Commercial crew launches will reduce the cost, per seat, of transporting NASA astronauts to the space station compared to what the agency must pay the Russian Federal Space Agency for the same service. If, however, NASA does not receive the full requested funding for CCtCap contracts in fiscal year 2016 and beyond, the agency will be forced to delay future milestones for both U.S. companies and continue its sole reliance on Russia to transport American astronauts to the space station.

Orders under the CCtCap contracts are made two to three years prior to actual mission dates in order to provide time for each company to manufacture and assemble the launch vehicle and spacecraft. Each company also must successfully complete a certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight. Each contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions.

A standard commercial crew mission to the station will carry up to four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the station for up to 210 days, available as an emergency lifeboat during that time.

“Commercial crew launches are really important for helping us meet the demand for research on the space station because it allows us to increase the crew to seven,” said Julie Robinson, International Space Station chief scientist. “Over the long term, it also sets the foundation for scientific access to future commercial research platforms in low- Earth orbit.”

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manages the CCtCap contracts and is working with each company to ensure commercial transportation system designs and post-certification missions will meet the agency’s safety requirements. Activities that follow the award of missions include a series of mission-related reviews and approvals leading to launch. The program also will be involved in all operational phases of missions to ensure crew safety.

Making the Overview Effect Real

By Gary Barnhard & Uma Shri Verma

Being in space and looking down at the Earth, astronauts are hit with an astounding reality: our planet is a tiny, fragile ball of life, “hanging in the void,” shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. This phenomenon is known as the Overview Effect.

Why do we explore? Surely it’s to discover the vastness of something outside of ourselves, something surreal and sublime.

What happens when you put yourself in the position to experience something astonishing? You are simultaneously filled with humility as you bask in the silence and are awed by beauty that is the reality of our planet.

The impossibly significant and insignificant merge as you seek to comprehend the part of the universe that you inhabit.

mccandlessThe image of U.S. astronaut Bruce McCandless using a manned maneuvering unit drives this home. Virtual reality can bring this experience to everyone and inspire the next generation of explorers.

Today we are at the cusp of witnessing one of the major technological breakthroughs in Virtual Reality (VR), the next disruptive technology that will redefine the future. It is an immersive experience that makes you feel like you’re physically present in an environment that you are not a part of. You’re transported to a virtual world and the result is spell-binding. It is possible for everyone to have the opportunity to experience the truly infinite, boundless universe that we live in…through virtual reality.

Through virtual reality you will be able to see the entire Earth pass underneath you, seeing exactly what astronauts do. Watch fireworks shoot off the planet on July 4th or a SpaceX Dragon module dock with the station as if you were floating right there!

Space is the final frontier, and everybody should have a chance to be a part of exploring it and, in turn, being influenced by it—to experience the Overview Effect. There’s a lot of excitement about exploring space by the people, for the people, and it will not happen unless people choose to be involved.  Together we can make the universe accessible to everyone, inspire the next generation of explorers and get people excited about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) fields.

SpaceVR is a San Francisco based start up working on sending a virtual reality camera to the International Space Station for everyone to experience what it’s like to see the world like an astronaut.  They plan to use 360-degree cameras placed in the International Space Station’s (ISS) Cupola observatory to capture and downlink imagery to Earth so a broader community can experience space travel in immersive virtual reality. From there their future plans include the Moon, asteroids, Mars and beyond. More details on their work can be found on their website at

National Space Society Calls SpaceX Launch Success a Step Toward Future Space Stations

The Falcon 9 launch by SpaceX to the International Space Station (ISS) on April 14th highlights the importance of the ISS in furthering space development and settlement. For example, Commercial Resupply Services 6 (CRS-6) lofted the Planetary Resources test spacecraft, the Arkyd 3, which will be launched from the ISS, and marks a significant step on a long road to mining the asteroids. However, the ISS is scheduled for destruction in 2024. If that time comes with no replacement, America’s and humanity’s hard-won foothold in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) will be lost.

The National Space Society (NSS) has released policy recommendations to extend and expand this foothold in space. The full paper is available at:

NSS does not suggest that the ISS be replaced by a single, large, government owned and operated facility. Instead, NSS proposes a program structured much like the successful Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) which led to the current CRS program and Commercial Crew (CCDev) programs where NASA helps develop multiple, privately owned, commercially operated space stations and then becomes an anchor tenant. The US ISS National Laboratory could continue to operate using these new space stations.

Additionally, NSS urges that NASA continue the existing CRS cargo and crew transportation arrangements for both up and down access to the new stations. Current international ISS partners and potential future partners would be invited to join the effort based on new partnership agreements, thus ensuring the continued international flavor of humanity’s LEO outposts.

Without adequate planning now, the end of the ISS program will result in the loss of a host of valuable capabilities and activities that promote commerce, science, space operations, and space settlement. Both Russia and China have said they will build stations of their own in the relatively near future. It seems self-evident that the USA will suffer a considerable blow in terms of prestige when the Russians and Chinese can offer stays on their LEO space stations to other nations while the U.S. offers nothing comparable.

NSS Executive Vice-President Dale Skran said, “We congratulate SpaceX on another successful launch demonstrating the efficacy of the COTS approach to developing significant space capabilities at low cost and urge NASA to adopt a similar approach to ensure a gapless transition beyond the ISS.”

The International Space Station as a Research Hub

From Dale Skran, Deputy Chair, NSS Policy Committee:

One of the major foci of the NSS Policy Committee has been and continues to be supporting the International Space Station and the associated critical Commercial Crew and Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) programs.  One reason both are so important to the ISS lies in the incredible value of the ability to both move new experiments to the ISS on a regular basis, and to return experimental results when they are ready.  It should be noted that the Russian Soyuz is a very tight fit for the three astronauts, and it has virtually no return-to-Earth cargo capacity.  Thus, without the CRS SpaceX Dragon, there would be no way to return experiments to Earth. NASA has produced the interesting half-hour video below that reviews science and technology efforts on the ISS during 2014.

NASA to Test Bigelow Expandable Module on Space Station

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver announced January 16 a newly planned addition to the International Space Station that will use the orbiting laboratory to test expandable space habitat technology. NASA has awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which is scheduled to arrive at the space station in 2015 for a two-year technology demonstration.

“Today we’re demonstrating progress on a technology that will advance important long-duration human spaceflight goals,” Garver said. “NASA’s partnership with Bigelow opens a new chapter in our continuing work to bring the innovation of industry to space, heralding cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably.”

The BEAM is scheduled to launch aboard the eighth SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the station contracted by NASA, currently planned for 2015. Following the arrival of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft carrying the BEAM to the station, astronauts will use the station’s robotic arm to install the module on the aft port of the Tranquility node.

After the module is berthed to the Tranquility node, the station crew will activate a pressurization system to expand the structure to its full size using air stored within the packed module. See animation below.

During the two-year test period, station crew members and ground-based engineers will gather performance data on the module, including its structural integrity and leak rate. An assortment of instruments embedded within module also will provide important insights on its response to the space environment. This includes radiation and temperature changes compared with traditional aluminum modules.

“The International Space Station is a uniquely suited test bed to demonstrate innovative exploration technologies like the BEAM,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “As we venture deeper into space on the path to Mars, habitats that allow for long-duration stays in space will be a critical capability. Using the station’s resources, we’ll learn how humans can work effectively with this technology in space, as we continue to advance our understanding in all aspects for long-duration spaceflight aboard the orbiting laboratory.”

Astronauts periodically will enter the module to gather performance data and perform inspections. Following the test period, the module will be jettisoned from the station, burning up on re-entry.

The Return of the Dragon

NASA press release about the successful completion of the first commercial resupply mission the the International Space Station:

RELEASE: 12-381


HOUSTON — A Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Dragon spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 2:22 p.m. CDT Sunday a few hundred miles west of Baja California, Mexico. The splashdown successfully ended the first contracted cargo delivery flight
contracted by NASA to resupply the International Space Station.

In the Water
Dragon in the Water after Splashdown
Image Credit: NASA

“With a big splash in the Pacific Ocean today, we are reminded American ingenuity is alive and well and keeping our great nation at the cutting edge of innovation and technology development,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “Just a little over one year after we retired the Space Shuttle, we have completed the first cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. Not with a government owned and operated system, but rather with one built by a private firm — an American company that is creating jobs and helping keep the U.S. the world leader in space as we transition to the next exciting chapter in exploration. Congratulations to SpaceX and the NASA team that supported them and made this historic mission possible.”

The Dragon capsule will be taken by boat to a port near Los Angeles, where it will be prepared for a return journey to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing. Some cargo will be removed at the port in California and returned to NASA within 48 hours. This includes a GLACIER freezer packed with research samples collected in the orbiting laboratory’s unique microgravity environment. These samples will help advance multiple scientific disciplines on Earth and provide critical data on the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body. The remainder of the cargo will be returned to Texas with the capsule.

The ability to return frozen samples is a first for this flight and will be tremendously beneficial to the station’s research community. Not since the space shuttle have NASA and its international partners been able to return considerable amounts of research and samples for

The Dragon launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on Oct. 7. It carried 882 pounds of cargo to the complex, including 260 pounds of crew supplies, 390 pounds of scientific research, 225 pounds of hardware and several pounds of other supplies. This included critical materials to support 166 scientific investigations, of which 63 were new. Returning with the Dragon capsule was 1,673 pounds of cargo, including 163 pounds of crew supplies, 866 pounds of scientific research, and 518 pounds of hardware.

The mission was the first of at least 12 cargo resupply missions to the space station planned by SpaceX through 2016 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.

SpaceX is one of two companies that built and tested new cargo spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Orbital Sciences is the other company participating in COTS. A demonstration flight of Orbital’s Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft to the station is planned in early 2013.

NASA initiatives like COTS and the agency’s Commercial Crew Program are helping develop a robust U.S. commercial space transportation industry with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the space station and low-Earth orbit. In addition to cargo flights, NASA’s commercial space partners are making progress toward a launch of astronauts from U.S. soil in the next 5 years.

While NASA works with U.S. industry partners to develop and advance these commercial spaceflight capabilities, the agency also is developing the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS), a crew capsule and heavy-lift rocket to provide an entirely new capability for human exploration. Designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS and Orion will expand human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and enable new missions of exploration in the solar system.

For more information about the International Space Station, visit:

For more information about NASA’s commercial space programs, visit:

Dragon – "The Ice Cream Truck Has Arrived"

At 3:56 AM Pacific Daylight time, Wednesday 10 October, the SpaceX Dragon space craft was successfully grappled by the Canadarm on the International Space Station (ISS). Referring to the fact that Dragon is capable of carrying powered equipment to and from the space station, the space station crew reported that they had captured Dragon and were looking forward to the chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream in the freezer aboard the space craft.

Dragon Attached to ISS – In The Sunlight Above Earth
Image Credit: NASA TV

Earth Illuminated: ISS Time-lapse Photography

We recommend switching to HD full screen for this video if your bandwidth allows.

From high above the Earth, the International Space Station (ISS) provides a unique vantage point to view our home planet. Stunning time-lapse photography of cities, aurora, lightning and other sights are seen from orbit. Famed astronomer Galileo imagined these views from space and now through the technological marvel of the space station, we can see them for ourselves. For more time-lapse imagery, visit the NASA website:
From here, NASA invites you to download videos or stills to enjoy or perhaps even create an ISS time-lapse video production of your own.