The International Space Station is always being improved upon, and the next upgrade on the docket is a 12-foot long living space that attaches to the ISS and doubles in size as it inflates.
Called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM for short, it will head up to the ISS on the next supply mission, and the Station’s robotic arm will attach it to the rear port. Just a touch of a button with inflate the BEAM, and it will expand to its full size in 45 minutes.
Here is what that process could look like:
While BEAM is attached to the ISS, astronauts will make four trips into it, with the longest one clocking in at three hours, although they could stay longer if they had the time. Their schedules are already packed with their daily tasks, and four hours is enough time to test BEAM’s radiation protection, temperature and general functions.
The change between the ISS and BEAM should be barely noticeable for the astronauts, though. Aside from it being a little bit cooler in BEAM, and the production of a small amount of condensation right after it expands, it is more or less the same environment as the ISS.
BEAM will stay attached to the ISS for two years, although it could probably last for five. If all goes well, there is a strong chance that the same technology in BEAM could be used for lunar or martian living.