(Image Credit: Bigelow Aerospace)
For those of you who envisioned outposts made out of metal, plastic and off world dirt, you may soon be disappointed that NASA and ESA have a different vision for conquering the final frontier, one filled with lots of hot air.
Gary Spexarth, manager of lunar surface systems design at NASA, believes that, despite their appearance, current inflatable habitats are far better suited than metal structures to the harsh environments of space. ’You could think of these inflatable modules as a big spacesuit,’ he said. ’The fabric is extremely tough and durable, but also designed to be as lightweight as possible. Unlike rigid metallic structures that can shatter or bend if hit by a micrometeorite, flexible material is able to recover to a certain extent.’ […]
A promising candidate is US company Bigelow Aerospace, which was founded by real-estate tycoon Bob Bigelow to develop inflatable extensions for the ISS. In 2004, Bigelow acquired the licences to NASA’s Transhab programme and has since successfully launched the Genesis I and II inflatable test craft. It now hopes to launch an 180m3 spacecraft called the Sundancer while looking at the possibilities of creating an inflatable Moon base. Bigelow’s work has far exceeded what others have been able to achieve in the field, largely thanks to the massive amounts of private funding. The company also recently announced that it is working with Boeing on the development of a commercial space-station system. (The Engineer)
Although inflatable structures have their own challenges (mainly dealing with the issue of folding them properly), deploying them upon the surface of the Moon, Mars, etc. is wiser than attempting to build settlements directly from extraterrestrial soil.
NASA has previously announced their intentions on using inflatable outposts for space as well as on the Moon, although they have yet to materialize thanks to the political makeup of Congress.
Currently Bigelow Aerospace is leading the front with its inflatable space stations, and with NASA stuck in budget limbo (due to Congress’s opposition to Obama’s first vision for space) we may have to rely upon Bigelow to establish beachheads upon the Moon.