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Made In Space Announces That Final 3D Printed Test Shield for Radiation Experiments Aboard the BEAM Is Complete

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The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), attached to the ISS. [Image: Bigelow Aerospace]

Earlier this summer, we heard about radiation experiments being conducted on the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) aboard the International Space Station (ISS). This experimental module, made by Bigelow Aerospace, was compact during travel, but filled with air and expanded upon docking with the ISS to give the astronauts a habitat to work and live in space. The BEAM is providing useful data on expandable habitats, and scientists on earth have been monitoring the characteristics that relate to the module’s ability to protect humans from the hazards of space, like debris and radiation.

Astronauts aboard the space station 3D printed a shield to cover one of the two Radiation Environment Monitors inside the BEAM. The shield, the white hemispherical shape at the center of the photograph, is shown above inside the BEAM module. [Image: NASA]

In June, NASA researchers at the Johnson Space Center began taking real-time measurements of the dosage of Galactic Cosmic Radiation (GCR) levels inside the BEAM, thanks to two active Radiation Environment Monitors (REM) inside. Researchers are also working to analyze this radiation, to check if the BEAM’s shielding properties can be applied to long-term missions. The ISS crew used the Made In Space zero gravity 3D printer to manufacture a 1.1 mm thick radiation shield and installed the hemispherical shield onto one of the REM sensors for a multi-month experiment.

Over the last several months, the crew 3D printed two successively thicker radiation shields, measuring at 3.3 mm and 10 mm, to replace the 1.1 mm thick one protecting the REM sensor. Researchers could then study the difference in measurements between the sensor with a shield and the one without, to “resolve the energy spectra of the trapped radiation particles.”

We’ve just learned from Made In Space that the third of these three radiation testing device prints has been completed, using its Additive Manufacturing Facility.

“Our guiding mission at Made In Space is to help develop the tools and technologies needed to explore off Earth. Devices such as this radiation shield will make future missions safer for astronauts. Each additively manufactured part we make is advancing this critical technology. We’ve only scratched the surface of what we will one day make in space,” Matt Napoli, Vice President of In-Space Operations for Made In Space, told 3DPrint.com.

The ISS astronauts changed out the 3D printed shields every few weeks, beginning in April and ending in late June. Each white, dome-shaped shield was 3D printed on the Additive Manufacturing Facility from ABS plastic, and inside each one is a channel for holding the REM sensor, which is responsible for detecting and gathering radiation measurements.

[Image: Made In Space]

“These relatively inexpensive and small tests will provide our customers with some valuable information on how to better design spacecraft to operate safely and more efficiently. Another benefit to these tests is the fast, real-time access to data – NASA will know in a short timeframe how radiation is affecting these structures and at what level,” said Napoli.

Spacecraft pass through areas, like the South Atlantic Anomaly, with higher radiation levels while they orbit the Earth, and manufacturers will be better equipped to improve upon the protection capabilities of future spacecraft if they know more about the effects of radiation. The REM devices measure radiation from all angles, and Made In Space engineers modified the design of the sensor to improve upon the the USB port’s mounting groove area.

Andrew Rush, the President and CEO of Made In Space, explained, “We have a number of product development interests related to this project. The REM tests could lead to many improvements in spacecraft and habitat construction in the future. Right now, with our Archinaut development program, we’re working to manufacture and assemble large structures in space for the first time in history. Information from these tests will help us with our materials research and other capabilities development.”

The inflatable BEAM is in the middle of its two-year stint attached to the ISS, and all of the technology demonstrations and research that the astronauts are conducting in the module give NASA valuable data about expandable space habitat technology in low-Earth orbit. Discuss in the BEAM forum at 3DPB.com.

 

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