One of the biggest problems with getting anything into space is the costs involved in hauling every kilo up and out of the atmosphere. If every kilogram costs around £3,000 to get into orbit, imagine the costs involved in taking up the entire International Space Station over the years. One solution being trialled with the next SpaceX launch though, is to expand it with inflatable sections.
Known as the BEAM habitat, the eight foot wide packed container, can be expanded to provide 565 cubic feet of space when inflated – around the same as a large garden shed. the idea behind the project, developed by Bigelow Aerospace, is to provide much cheaper alternatives to space station parts in the future, thereby making it possible to have much more expansive and somewhat permanent, fixtures in space.
The BEAM habitat will go up with the next Space X launch on 8th April, tucked within an unmanned Dragon cargo capsule, along with other supplies and systems. It is expected to last two years when installed correctly and will not only give the astronauts aboard the station a new area to spend time in if they wish, but will also be subject to various tests throughout its time attached. Those tests will confirm its space-worthiness and durability throughout its tenure.
There’s no point sending up an inflatable structure if it can’t stand up to the rigours of space travel or the heavier radiation it can be subjected to than the surface of the Earth.