Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Inflatable Space Station
Hotel tycoon Robert T. Bigelow is building an inflatable space station. This is a must-read.
In just four years, Bigelow wants to launch the first inflatable space station into orbit (unmanned test modules have been in orbit since 2007). By 2016, another space station will be launched, with a combined capacity of 36 people (six times the number of astronauts currently residing on the International Space Station).
Weight has always been a major hurdle in space travel. Each additional pound on a space vehicle today costs thousands of dollars, and of course there are limits to how large and powerful we can build our rockets. Recently the solution has been to design separate vehicles for carrying astronauts and supplies into space, like the Ares I and Ares V plan for Constellation. Orbital fueling stations have also been envisioned to reduce the payload of manned launch vehicles.
But an inflatable module should reduce the launch costs considerably, as it would most likely weigh less than it's rigid counterpart and require a smaller rocket to boost it into orbit. And as Bigelow hopes, this could be a major boost for the private space industry, reducing costs across the board.