Inflatable Space Habitats

Self-deploying inflatable space living modules have been being designed by NASA engineers since the 1960s. A light weight collapsible package that can create a space lifeboat like module simply by inflating it with some gas has many advantages over lifting more rigid construction materials out of the gravity well and then assembling them.

While an inflatable module offers a quick and easy way to contain an atmosphere and regulate temperature, it also needs to be rigid enough to contain the pressure created by the atmosphere and to offer at least a minimum amount of structural integrity.

SP-4308 SPACEFLIGHT REVOLUTION – 9 – Skipping “The Next Logical Step”

The inflatable torus had several major selling points. It was “unitized,” meaning that all its elements were part of a single structure that could be carried to orbit by the launch of one booster, just as was the case with the Echo balloon. NASA would simply fold the station into a compact payload for an automatic deployment once the payload had reached altitude. The inner volume of the torus could be given a gravity capability of O to 1 G. The station could be designed for both natural and artificial stability, for rendezvous-dock-abort capability, and for variable demand power supply. The torus could also have regenerative life-support systems for a six-person crew

An obvious major concern is how the structure will stand up to meteorite impact and offer shielding against radiation. Thickening the inflatable fabric is one answer, but that also makes it heavier and bulkier and less easy to deploy. Using a double hull and/or making sections modular with self-sealing capability to minimize air loss is another answer. Adding a protective coating to the outer skin to thicken and harden it is another possible answer but that will depend upon the availability of the protective material. On the surface of a moon or near an asteroid, there will likely be plenty of regolith (dust, soil and loose rock) available for this purpose. Combinations of these answers will be used to adapt to the environment.

Inflatable Space & Planetary Habitats – [ilcdover.com]

Key Benefits of Deployable Inflatable Habitats
The primary benefit is enabling very large structures to be packaged into small volumes for launch. ILC has worked on numerous innovative concepts for inflatable habitats over the past decades and pioneered the webbing-restraint structural system in use today. This type of inflatable structure has the redundancy and safety needed to protect humans in space.

Advanced Materials for Flexible Structures
ILC has been leading advanced flexible materials and embedded electronics technologies for habitats. Robust material systems have been tested that utilize multifunction layers to provide thermal, hypervelocity particle impact, and radiation protection while maintaining a safe and comfortable environment for its inhabitants.

Bigelow Aerospace – [bigelowaerospace.com]

Introduction
With over ten years of research and development, we are dedicated to providing affordable options for spaceflight to national space agencies and corporate clients. In 2006 and 2007, we launched our orbiting prototypes Genesis I and Genesis II, and we are currently working on new-generation spacecraft. Using our patented expandable habitats, our plan is to greatly exceed the usable space of the International Space Station at a fraction of the cost.

Bigelow Aerospace’s founder and President, Robert T. Bigelow, is a Las Vegas native who for nearly forty years has operated as a general contractor and developer in the Southwestern United States. Mr. Bigelow’s primary activities have been in real estate development, as well as banking and finance. Mr. Bigelow created Bigelow Aerospace with the express purpose of revolutionizing space commerce via the development of affordable, reliable, and robust expandable space habitats.

Why Inflatable Structures are Important to NASA Now – [youtube.com]

It’s been 10 years since NASA last considered inflatable structures. Back then it was for the International Space Station. Political pressure axed the initiative. Now however inflatable structures look like they could be useful for the moon and Mars. It’s about time this technology got a second look.

How to Run an Efficient, Inflatable Space Station – [popularmechanics.com]

Bigelow Aerospace has plans to send an inflatable habitat into space for renting customers. To run an orbital hotel requires some serious efficiency and innovative recycling. Here’s how it could work.

Inflatable space stations take off – [youtube.com]

Bigelow Aerospace has already sent two prototypes of its inflatable space station into orbit and plans to start leasing its space stations in 2010.

Construction of a large space habitat might be made easier by using inflatable modules assembled and hardened by crews working on the external side, then finished off by crews on the inside once the module is space worthy.

SEE ALSO:
Space Vehicles
Space Transport
Reconfigurable Spacecraft

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