Astro-journalist Tariq Malik explains what an inflatable space habitat is and how it will help astronauts gather data

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The International Space Station is about to get a puffy new playroom.

SpaceX is poised to launch an experimental, inflatable module for testing on the ISS, which could pave the way toward more compact, inexpensive space station modules in the future – including modules for commercial tourism.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, might sound like a playset for a toddler, but it’s actually a collapsible sort of space tent meant to withstand the rigours of low orbit. The privately-developed module is set to be installed on the ISS this week, for a two-year demonstration to test how well it holds up against the radiation, temperature and micro-meteoroid dangers of space.

On Friday, a SpaceX rocket will carry the folded-up BEAM into orbit, where the Canadarm2 will install it on the ISS. The BEAM is designed to automatically inflate to its full 4.01-metre by 3.23-metre spherical size once it is installed. journalist Tariq Malik says NASA paid $17 million for the module, which is far less expensive than the $100-billion it cost to build the five-module ISS.

“This would be an extra room for a fraction of that cost,” he told CTV’s Canada AM on Wednesday.

Malik says the module will mostly serve as a storage area for the ISS, while astronauts run tests to see if it can remain comfortable, habitable and pressurized over a long period of time.


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