ISS to be equipped with expandable habitat for first time

ISS to be equipped with expandable habitat for first time

ISS to be equipped with expandable habitat for first time

For the first time, the International Space Station (ISS) will be equipped with an expandable habitable structure that has the potential to revolutionise work on the orbital laboratory.

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft is delivering almost 3,175kg of cargo, including the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), to the ISS following its launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida on April 10.

"The cargo will allow investigators to use microgravity conditions to test the viability of expandable space habitats, assess the impact of antibodies on muscle wasting, use protein crystal growth to aid the design of new disease-fighting drugs and investigate how microbes could affect the health of the crew and their equipment over a long duration mission," said NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman.

BEAM will arrive in Dragon's unpressurised trunk and, after about five days, will be removed and attached to the station. Expansion is targeted for the end of May. The module will expand to roughly 10 feet in diameter and 13 feet long.

During its two-year test mission, astronauts will enter the module for a few hours several times a year to retrieve sensor data and assess conditions.

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

This first in situ test of the module will allow researchers to gauge how well the habitat protects against solar radiation, space debris and contamination.

Crew members experience significant decreases in bone density and muscle mass during long-duration spaceflight without appropriate nutrition and exercise.

One life science investigation on its way to the orbiting laboratory will assess myostatin inhibition as a means of preventing skeletal muscle atrophy and weakness in mice exposed to long-duration spaceflight.

Drugs tested on the space station could progress to human clinical trials back on Earth to validate their effectiveness for future space missions.

Dragon will also deliver Microchannel Diffusion, a study of fluids at the nanoscale, or atomic, level. Nanofluidic sensors could measure the air in the space station, or be used to deliver drugs to specific places in the body.

The laws that govern flow through nanoscale channels are not well understood, and this research simulates those interactions by studying them at the larger microscopic level.

This type of research is possible only on the space station, where Earth's gravity is not strong enough to interact with the molecules in a sample, so they behave more like they would at the nanoscale.

Results of the research may have implications for drug delivery and particle filtration, as well as future technological applications for space exploration.

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