NASA recently revealed that they are working to determine the radiation levels in space by producing radiation shields aboard the International Space Station with 3D printing. Using their 3D printer by Made in Space which is housed within the ISS, NASA has integrated these 3D printed shields onto the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which recently surpassed the first of a 2 year testing period of being docked on the ISS. The BEAM was created by Bigelow Aerospace, a company headquartered in Las Vegas, with the purpose of providing another possible in-space habitat. The 2-year testing period will help to analyze the durability and aptness of the newer soft material used the construct the module.

In April, astronauts began testing the level of radiation the BEAM was exposed to. Anticipated results are expected to provide considerable insights for improvements to radiation shielding compared to other metallic structures on the International Space Station. The experiment will centralize on the comparison of multiple hemispherical shields that are deployed around the Radiation Environment Monitors (REM) sensors. These hemispherical shields, which were 3D printed, will at first, be 1.1 mm thick. Following the tests of these shields, astronauts will replace them with significantly thicker shields – 3.3 mm and 10 mm. By doing so, NASA hopes to better understand the effects of the shield. Only one of the sensors will contain the shields, while the other will be used to compare the readings. NASA is hopeful that the results of these tests will help them evaluate the usefulness of the shields and the BEAM’s ability to protect itself from deeper space radiation.

Artist's conception of the BEAM attached to the ISS. Image via Bigelow Aerospace.

Artist’s conception of the BEAM attached to the ISS.

With Space X’s Falcon 9 having been launched over a year ago, Bigelow Aerospace’s BEAM is undergoing these tests to ultimately determine its suitability for deeper space expeditions. Radiation resistance is one of the deepest concerns when it comes to deep space exploration and travel, so the goal of the experiment is to provide insight into how well the BEAM resists radiation and to help determine just how threatening this radiation can actually be.

In addition to their BEAM, Bigelow Aerospace is looking to create a concept for an expandable space station. This could reap many benefits as it could potentially be launched as a smaller payload and then later on be expanded upon. Made in Space is working to develop the ability to actually 3D print in space in order to reduce the space and weight of a payload.

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