The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was finally installed on the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday. The Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) was involved with the removal of the payload from trunk section of the recently arrived CRS-8 Dragon, prior to translating the new module to the Station’s Node 3 port.
The expandable – sometimes tagged as inflatable – module rode to space during the latest SpaceX launch of its Falcon 9 rocket.
While a large amount of focus was placed on the historic first stage landing on the ASDS barge, Of Course I Still Love You, Dragon’s safe ascent to orbit marked her return to Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) operations, following the loss of the previous Dragon mission.
With a pressurized section full of supplies and equipment for the occupants of the orbital outpost, Dragon’s unpressurized section, known as the Trunk, also hosted another highlight of the CRS-8 mission.
Initially hiding out of the view of the prying eyes of the ISS cameras, BEAM was grabbed by the SSRMS over the early hours of Saturday ahead of its installation.
Ahead of the grapple, the operation of “letting go” of the Dragon was conducted, ahead the SSRMS operations to retrieve BEAM.
Incidentally, the arm’s hold on the Dragon was a note of interest during the berthing of the spacecraft.
“SSRMS Latching End Effector (LEE) tension. During Dragon capture there was an issue with the SSRMS LEE in which there was lower than expected LEE carriage rigidization tension force,” noted L2 ISS notes.
“A re-rigidization command was successful, and the rest of the berthing activities proceeded nominally. Ground teams are investigating the cause of the initial low tension issue.”
The arm was able to let go of Dragon, given she was firmly bolted to her port during the final stages of her arrival. In turn, the SSRMS moved into survey mode.
“SSRMS Dragon Trunk Survey. SSRMS was relocated from Node 2, where it supported Dragon berthing, to the US Lab and performed a Dragon trunk and BEAM survey,” added the notes. “This move also positions the SSRMS for upcoming Port FGB survey and BEAM extraction and installation.”
Views of the extractions for ground controllers – who will be involved with the majority of the robotic operations were also checked out this week.
“Node 3 Aft Centerline Berthing Camera System (CBCS) installation,” the noted continued. “Crew successfully installed the CBCS in preparation for BEAM installation.”
Robotic operations with the Dragon have become the norm since they were first tested.
Trunk payload removal tasks are based on a complex series of procedures created by ground teams – as outlined in a Dragon/ISS robotics ops document (L2).
Following survey testing during the first mission, the initial hardware that was removed from Dragon’s Trunk came during the CRS-2/SpX-2 mission.
This op was tasked with the removal of two Heat Rejection Subsystem Grapple Fixtures (HRSGFs) – which are essentially bars each featuring two Flight Releasable Grapple Fixtures (FRGFs).
The next mission involved the first payload removal task between the SSRMS, the Dextre robot and Dragon’s trunk during CRS-3/SpX-3 – an operation that was repeated again during the CRS-5/SpX-5 mission with the Cloud Aerosol Transport System (CATS) payload.
That first major SSRMS payload removal during CRS-3 was the High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) package, which comprises of four high-definition cameras, which is still streaming live video of Earth for online viewing. It was removed alongside the OPALS payload.
CRS-4/SpX-4 also delivered a payload in the trunk section, with the ISS-RapidScat payload now attached to the Station’s Columbus laboratory.
Ahead of BEAM installation, the petals on the Node 3 Aft CBM (Common Berthing Mechanism) hatch were opened on Friday.
Operations to remove BEAM from Dragon’s trunk began around 4:00 UTC on Saturday, via ground controller commands.
“Over the years (we switched a lot to) ground controllers doing virtually everything (with the robotic operations), with just a couple of exceptions, such as the capture of the vehicles,” noted ISS veteran and current Expedition 47 Flight Engineer Jeff Williams this week.
“Robotics will move it over with the arm and then we’ll grab it with the latches and the CBM and do the initial bolting.”
NASA TV began live coverage of the final leg of the four hour operation at 9:00 UTC on Saturday, as BEAM was installed on Node 3.
The process took until 9:36 UTC to complete, as the module was translated over into its new port, prior to undergoing first and second stage capture. The latter stage required some troubleshooting, but the installation was still completed around 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
Following installation, expansion of the new habitat module won’t occur until late May.
At that point, crewmembers will ingress the module to install instrumentation and sensors to send data to the ground on its performance. The hatch will be closed for most of its berthed mission.
“Well we’re excited to add another – what is essentially – vehicle on to the Station,” Expedition 47’s Tim Kopra noted this week during media interviews from the ISS.
“This is another example of where the commercial industry has been innovative in their techniques.”
BEAM will allow Bigelow and NASA to demonstrate the capabilities of the inflatable habitat on ISS.
It is expected to perform for at least two years of testing on the Station, providing a key shake out of the technology that is likely to play a major role in human deep space exploration.
“(BEAM) will be a great way to test out the thermal characteristics of this new type of module, along with its radiation protection,” added Kopra. “It’s going to be a neat thing.”
Following its test period, the SSRMS will remove the module from the Station before releasing it Nadir (Earth-facing). The module will eventually re-enter around a year later.
A successful shakeout will also aid Bigelow’s recently promoted aspirations for sending a BA-330 module to the ISS – although NASA is yet to rubber stamp the ideas presented at an event with its launch partner, United Launch Alliance (ULA).
“We are exploring options for the location of the initial B330 including discussions with NASA on the possibility of attaching it to the International Space Station (ISS),” said Robert Bigelow, founder and president of Bigelow Aerospace.
When asked about the comments, Kopra admitted it would be a welcome addition to the Station.
“I think any time we can bring up new modules to Space Station we’re going to be excited about that. We have a big Station here but there’s room to make it bigger.
“So if we can add additional modules to test out the future of space exploration – and the way humans are going to interact with modules – I think it’s a great idea.”
Images: NASA and renders from L2 artist Nathan Koga – The full gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)
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