More Space in Space

Space station to get $18 million balloon-like room

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That’s it – the blue thing at the upper left. It seems like a good idea, although I’m not sure what the basis for comparison in the following images are. Weight? Total $ per cubic metre? What we do know is:

Pressurized volume of a single 20 ton BA 330 module is 330 m3, compared to 106 m3of the 15 ton ISS Destiny module (BA 330 has 210% more habitable space, while having only 33% higher mass). BA 330 thus provides significant increase in habitable space per unit of mass lifted into space compared to traditional rigid “tin can” modules. [W]

So then, it seems to be better value for money, despite costing more to lift. What the room essentially does is provide space for humans to access the experiments, entertainments and domestic kit arranged along the core of the pod. It seems sensible to keep all the stuff that won’t expand or contract easily, away from the stuff that will. There doesn’t seem to be anything on the outer walls except “four large windows coated with a UV protection film” (which, quite frankly, seems a little flimsy after what we’ve read about the walls). It’s unclear why it needs to be that much larger if the extra space (despite being called “habitable space” can’t be used in any meaningful way. So what the BA330 does is provide space and not much else, and it does provide it at less $ per cubic metre.

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The problems of an expanding space family aren’t that much different from life on Earth. You need more room, and you don’t want to pay too much for it. The advantage of this expandable pod is that its transportation requires less volume and energy (per unit weight, that is). Just like a balloon, its final shape is formed by the internal pressure being greater than the external pressure – which isn’t that difficult to achieve in space. The problem is to prevent the thing from exploding like a balloon but this was always the case. Putting one’s faith in the tensile strength of one material is no better or worse than putting one’s faith in the tensile strength of another. Here’s what the big Wiki has to say.

  1. It offers a large habitable space for crews to live and conduct experiments in. The exterior of the craft is intended to be 14 metres (45 ft) long by 6.7 metres (22 ft) in diameter.
  2. It can be relatively light for its size, weighing between 20,000 kilograms (45,000 lb) and 23,000 kilograms (50,000 lb), making it easier to place large amounts of volume in orbit.
  3. Its skin, made of high-strength textiles and Vectran-like materials, is wrapped with several layers of high-tension straps. It is particularly resistant to damage from micrometeoroids and space debris.
    The key to the debris protection is successive layers of Nextel, a material commonly used as insulation under the hoods of many cars, spaced between several-inches-thick layers of open cell foam, similar to foam used for chair cushions on Earth. The Nextel and foam layers cause a particle to shatter as it hits, losing more and more of its energy as it penetrates deeper.With almost two dozen layers, TransHab’s foot-thick inflatable shell is a marvel of innovative design. The layers are fashioned to break up particles of space debris and tinymeteorites that may hit the shell with a speed seven times as fast as a bullet. The outer layers protect multiple inner bladders, made of a material that holds in the module’s air. The shell also provides insulation from temperatures in space that can range from +121°C (+250°F) in sunlight to -128°C (-200°F) in the shade.Many layers into the shell is a layer of super-strong woven Kevlar that holds the module’s shape. The air is held inside by three bladders of Combithermmaterial commonly used in the food-packing industry. The innermost layer, forming the inside wall of the module, is Nomex cloth, a fireproof material that also protects the bladder from scuffs and scratches. [NASA TransHab Concept]
  4. The BA 330 provides radiation protection equivalent to, and ballistic protection superior to, the International Space Station.

It’s unlikely that, like Teflon and Velcro, inflatable homes will find a use down here. There’s a lot of technology involved here that emergency shelters, refugee shelters or even regular housing aren’t ever going to monetize. The earthbound problems of transporting materials and assembling them, simply don’t require a solution like this. If maintaining internal pressure and temperature aren’t necessary, then a tent will do – and  usually does. Here’s how the pod will be installed.

Bigelow Aerospace’s clients will be able to lease an entire BA 330 or share space within a module. We will provide a comprehensive turn-key experience including our clients’ transportation and on-orbit needs. Whether you are a sovereign nation developing an astronaut program, a corporation interested in microgravity research, or an individual with a desire to experience space, we can help you achieve your goals. For more information about business opportunities, please send us a message from our Contact Us page.

Remember:

  1. Be rich and willing to piss away a fortune. A 60-day stay will cost $25 million, which doesn’t include the $27.5 million it costs to get there and back. [AP via Yahoo]
  2. Maybe take something interesting to do for those 60 days.
  3. Be nice – sharing a space can be tricky.
  4. Take your iPod – anything is more amazing with a soundtrack.

4. Don’t use it – music can be really annoying sometimes.

It might be years and probably decades before any spin off effects spin our way but misfits supports the International Space Station and its goals. Anything that gets more people up there doing useful stuff is a good thing. Any technological advance that lets them stay there are do it for longer, more economically and more comfortably is a good thing. One wonders what Henry-Russell Hitchcock would have thought?

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“Circular collar links visually to main structure. Surface pattern  accentuates simple parapet. Inappropriate and poorly-placed lettering.”