Bigelow’s inflatable room has worked out well.
Raise a glass of Tang and salute the BEAM bouncy castle. Launched in April 2016 and inflated in June, it has proven its worth, holding up as well as the aluminum cans that form the rest of the International Space Station. Now NASA has decided to hang onto it until at least 2020.
Designboom tells us that it has been used mostly for storage and testing so far, but now,
NASA and Bigelow collaboratively analyzed the feasibility of BEAM’s life extension. Then, astronauts got to work, removing hardware from the initial expansion, installing air ducts, netting, and empty bags in order to define BEAM’s volume of stowage space. soon, BEAM may feature a power/data interface, allowing for more collaborative technology demonstrations.
It’s on TreeHugger because in space, an inflatable building makes so much sense; as noted in our earlier post, it takes up less room in the rocket, and weights a lot less. The internal air pressure gives it its shape; instead of fighting with air pressure, it puts it to use. The skin is in tension, so it can have great strength to weight ratio. Bigelow goes as far as to say: “The aluminum cans are antiquated.”
Inflatables are lighter, and take up a lot less space on the rocket, resulting in less fuel, less pollution and less cost. As I noted earlier, it is a lesson in minimalist design going right back to Bucky Fuller: What's the most efficient and lightest way to enclose a volume? A sphere, which is natural for an inflatable. And since everything in space is pressurized, it makes so much sense to put that air to work.
There may well be more bouncy castles in space; according to Designboom, “this public-private partnership supports NASA’s objective to develop deep space habitation for human missions beyond earth, and it supports commercial capabilities for non-government applications (aka, the growth of the space economy).”
I also look forward to bulletproof Passivhaus-certified inflatable yurts here on earth.