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  • The astronauts on the International Space Station are getting some new toys.

  • And bytoys,” I mean some pretty neat science experiments.

  • Researchers on Earth have been waiting to send these experiments up into space for while,

  • but they've had somedelays. The explosive kind.

  • One of those experiments is getting a ride on the SpaceX CRS-8 mission, which launches today.

  • It's called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, and it's basically an inflatable

  • room -- the first to be tested by astronauts in space.

  • The CRS-8 mission was originally planned for September 2015, but it was delayed after the

  • failure of SpaceX's last cargo mission, in June 2015.

  • Now, the mission is finally ready to launch -- and the inflatable module is going with it.

  • NASA has been experimenting on-and-off with inflatable habitats since the 1960s, but most

  • of the programs didn't get very far.

  • Then, in the early 2000s, the private company Bigelow Aerospace bought the rights to one

  • of NASA's inflatable technology projects and continued to develop it.

  • In 2006 and 2007, the company successfully launched two inflatable prototypes, which

  • are still orbiting Earth. And in 2013, they won a contract with NASA to test BEAM on the ISS.

  • Once BEAM arrives, astronauts will use the space station's robotic arm to attach it,

  • perform some systems checks, and then inflate it from a compact 3 cubic meters to its full

  • volume of 16 cubic meters -- about as big as a family-sized camping tent.

  • The module is made of layers of soft, expandable materials that hold in the air, provide insulation,

  • protect against radiation, and act as a shield against space debris and tiny meteoroids.

  • Bigelow will monitor its performance for the next two years, using sensors to collect temperature,

  • pressure, and radiation data.

  • Astronauts will also go inside the module to inspect it and take more measurements.

  • There's still a lot more testing to be done before we have inflatable habitats safe enough

  • for humans to live and work in.

  • But the hope is that eventually, we'll be able to use these blow-up rooms on space stations

  • -- and maybe even on other worlds.

  • Another new experiment that had an unexpectedly long journey to the ISS? The Meteor Composition

  • Determination mission, or Meteor for short.

  • The experiment is basically a modified, high-definition camera that's meant to study meteor showers:

  • when bits of dust and debris -- usually left over from comets and asteroids that have passed

  • by -- burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

  • The camera will be able to detect more -- and smaller -- meteor showers than the ones we

  • can observe from here on Earth, because it doesn't have all those layers of atmosphere

  • interfering with the view.

  • And, the camera lens has a special, changeable grating that splits light from the meteors

  • into different wavelengths, which the researchers will use to figure out what those meteors

  • are made of.

  • But even though they first tried to launch the Meteor experiment back in October 2014,

  • it only got to the ISS two weeks ago.

  • See, that first launch was on the Cygnus CRS Orb-3 mission, which exploded a few seconds

  • after it launched because of a problem with one of the rocket engines.

  • Luckily, the team had a spare version of the experiment.

  • Good thinking.

  • Unluckily, they loaded up that spare on SpaceX's cargo resupply mission in June 2015 -- the

  • one that I was just talking about earlier, that failed and pushed off the BEAM experiment.

  • But the third time's the charmish.

  • On March 23rd, the Meteor experiment launched on another Cygnus cargo ship, attached to

  • an Atlas V rocket.

  • And the Cygnus did make it to the ISS!

  • But there were some problems along the way.

  • The rocket's first stage engine had some issues, and it shut off about 5-6 seconds

  • too soon.

  • That might not sound like a very long time, but every single second of thrust is important

  • for getting ships to the right orbit.

  • The upper stage of the rocket compensated by firing for around a minute longer than

  • planned, which got the Cygnus to the right orbit in the end.

  • So everything turned out okay, but scientists and engineers are still trying to figure out

  • exactly what went wrong on the rocket.

  • In the meantime, the Meteor instrument is safely installed in the Window Observational

  • Research Facility on the ISS, and is ready to record some meteor showers.

  • Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Space News, and thanks especially to this

  • month's President of Space SR Foxley.

  • If you want to be President of Space and help us make episodes like this, go to patreon.com/scishow.

  • And don't forget to go to youtube.com/scishowspace and subscribe!

The astronauts on the International Space Station are getting some new toys.

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B1 US meteor inflatable space mission experiment module

The Space Station's Inflatable Room

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    joey joey posted on 2021/07/01
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