Engineers Create Inflatable Space Habitat

BA-330Bigelow Aerospace has designed the BA-330, an inflatable space habitat that can be used in the future by governments, corporations, and private citizens to create research stations or space hotels.

The BA-330’s soft shell allows it to fit inside a small launch vehicle and be inflated in space. The soft shell is also better at reflecting debris and absorbing radiation than the International Space Station.

The BA-330 can be compressed to a diameter of 12 feet to be transported to space. The inflatable habitat measures 45 feet long and 22 feet in diameter and has an interior volume of 330 cubic meters when inflated. Bigelow has created a full-scale model and plans to create two real versions by 2017.

Three or four modules could be linked to create a space bigger than the International Space Station. While it took over 20 launches to construct the ISS, the BA-330 could be assembled in four or five trips.

BigelowThe interior of the model was designed by Boeing and includes hypothetical research equipment. In reality, the module could be customized to fit the needs of whatever company or agency intends to use it. The center of the habitat forms the solid part of the BA-330 and contains the life support and computer equipment, unlike the ISS, which has equipment along the walls.

White bags inside the inflatable habitat will store drinking water and waste water, and brown bags will be used to store food, clothing, and medical supplies. Putting more mass between the inside of the habitat and the outside environment will help to protect the occupants from radiation.

The habitat is designed to accommodate six people. It will have separate sleeping quarters for each occupant.

In space, moisture is released into the air through sweat and breathing. An air conditioning system condenses it and converts it into drinking water. A hydrolyzer separates water into hydrogen and oxygen. Oxygen is pumped into the cabin, while hydrogen is used to fuel the inflatable habitat’s propulsion system.

Bigelow is also working on a smaller habitat, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), that will dock with the ISS in 2015 to conduct manned testing.


NASA Dishes out $17 Million to Develop Inflatable Space Station

Inflatable Space Station
Recently NASA has awarded a contract to explore ways to potentially expand the International Space Station. The company that received the contract, Bigelow Aerospace, will have access to $17.8 million to create an inflatable extension for the space station. According to NASA, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module “will demonstrate the benefits of this space habitat technology for future exploration and commercial space endeavors.” NASA hopes that this new inflatable technology can help get astronauts reach distances they never have before.

You may not have known, but inflatable space technology is nothing new. The first passive communication satellites, Echo 1 and Echo 2, were both inflatable. This technology came about when NASA determined that satellite would be too big to fit into the Thor-Delta rocket in 1958. To alleviate this problem, NASA decided to have the satellites inflate when they reached space.

The idea of a self-contained inflatable habitat for space exploration has been around for decades. It has been budget constraints that have help NASA from putting the idea into action. In 2000, NASA had to cancel its “Transit Habitat” plan that would get astronaut crews to Mars using the inflatable technology due to budget issues.

The Bigelow Aerospace company has been working independently on inflatable habitats for many years. Currently, Bigelow offers a BA 330 inflatable habitat that can be both added on to an existing station or operate on its own. The BA 330 has 330 cubed meters of volume and can support a crew of up to six people for an extended period of time. According to Bigelow, the BA 330’s radiation protection can at least match that of the International Space Station. The inflatable habitat’s “aluminum can” design features four large windows the crew can use to look out into space.

There is no confirmation on whether or not Bigelow Aerospace’s BA 330 or another inflatable habitat has been commissioned by NASA. However, NASA plans to hold a press even soon with Bigelow to discuss their plans for the inflatable project.