Inflatable habitats for Space Stations

Robert Zwilling

Well-Known Member
Jun 12, 2018
Inflatable habitats for Space Stations provide extremely cheap modules for future space stations. They could probably also be deflated when not in use to save energy. The ones being developed are small but there is no reason they could not be made bigger. It might also be possible to have walls that could be penetrated by space junk and then self seal. Not good for anyone inside the inflatable section if they got hit. A standalone structure that could be built by exposing a ball of foam that hardened concrete hard after expanding into a bubble could provide instant shelter in space or on the Moon or Mars.
I have been talking about this for awhile. I don't see why ships couldn't also be in this format - the acceleration is never that high.
I wrote about inflatable habitats in space but never considered them moving around like ships. Air ships in space. Light weight technology, plus use the metal for other things besides ship hulls.
That article is a decade old. What was the outcome?

As an aside, considering my luck with inflatable mattresses, I wouldn't trust my like to an inflatable spaceship.
Until we can move massive space cargos into space, inflatable infrastructure will probably be the only way to create off planet cheap housing.

The space station has an inflatable module that was originally scheduled to be tested for 2 years. It is still in service and will be used as long as the station is in operation. This should provide future contracts for the inflatable infrastructure companies when more space stations are launched.

Plans are being made for inflatable moon base structures.

Testing is progressing on how much stress an inflatable structure can take.

The situation has some similarities to extremely deep ocean exploration. The risks are similar and the world on the other side of the wall is probably equal in harshness if the wall breaks down.
Bigelow gave up their maintenance contract on their inflatable module attached to the space station when the contract expired in 2022. They said there wasn't enough money offered for them to continue.

They have built an inflatable moonbase that is 330 cubic meters, not including the airlocks. The airlocks are double compartments. I think the airlocks will need to be more extensive than that if they want to keep all the lunar dust out of the living/working area. The picture shows spacesuits hanging on the wall inside the living/working area. Those are probably emergency suits that are never used outside as it would be very hard to remove all the lunar dust from anything that goes outside.

Secondary launches after crafts reach Earth orbit.

The rocket to launch the station has two parts, the initial rocket to launch everything is built and working but the plans call for a second, upper section to make it possible for the station to be delivered to the moon. Basically it is a huge fuel tank that is used to provide fuel and energy once the initial supply of fuel is used up. There have been several existing and proposed designs but none have been tested in space yet. Several designs have been discontinued. It appears that the choice of fuel, probably for some kind of simple combustion rocket engine, hasn't been finalized yet. There are several proposed plans to make rocket fuel out of lunar surface materials.
Let's just hope that badly behaved astronauts don't let their spacestations down.
An inflatable O'Neal cylinder?
Clearly, you need stronger materials to make larger structures. There's a reason the Golden Gate Bridge is not made of rope. Inflatable structures made of some sort of cloth or film are appropriate for smaller or lower acceleration structures.

Steel and aluminum are appropriate for O'Neills, and if you want to get a lot larger than an O'Neill you need to look at exotic materials to have the strength to weight ratio to survive the forces involved.
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