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An ISS resupply mission is launching today and the space station should have a new inflatable room to experiment with!

"Spaceflight Is Hard"
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 Introduction (0:00)

The astronauts on the International Space Station are getting some new toys. And by toys, I mean some pretty neat science experiments. Researchers on Earth have been waiting to send these experiments up into space for a while, but they've had some delays. The explosive kind. 

 BEAM (0:17)

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 the 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 about 16 cubic meters, about as big as like 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. But there's still a lot more testing to be done before we have inflatable habitats safe enough for humans to live and work in. The hope is that eventually, we'll be able to use these blow-up rooms on space stations, and maybe even on other worlds. 

 The Meteor Mission (1:51)

Another new experiments 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 us by, burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

This camera will be able to detect more meteor showers 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 rockets 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 charm-ish. 

On March 23rd, the Meteor experiment launched another Cygnus cargo chip, attached to an Atlas V rocket. And the Cygnus did make it to the ISS! But there was some problems on the way. The rocket's first storage engine had some issues, and it shut off about 5 or 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. 

 Conclusion (3:37)

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 And don't forget to go to and subscribe.