Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Fancy a stay in an inflatable space hotel?

Everything can be inflated these days. I've previously posted about an inflatable office in a bucket. I’d an inflatable Christmas Tree dangling above my desk over the festive season. There’s an inflatable sunflower (only about six feet tall) sitting around the corner. My daughter loves paddling in her inflatable pool.

But a spacecraft? Check watch in case it’s 1st of April?

Based on an old design by Nasa, Bigelow Aerospace have built a prototype an inflatable Earth-orbiting module. Genesis I was carefully folded up and placed on board a Dnepr rocket (a converted Russian intercontinental ballistic missile) and launched from Yasny in Siberia today.

I love the wording that the BBC used:
“Once the watermelon-shaped craft … is safely established in orbit, it will be inflated to full size.”
Full size for the prototype is about 4.5m long, with a diameter of 2.4m - one-third of the size of a full-scale craft.

Bigelow plan to monitor Genesis I over the next few years, to see how the material fairs out of the lab and up in space. Eventually, it could form the core of a space hotel.

Now it’s not as mad as it might sound. Lighter that the entirely solid space station components currently orbiting the Earth, the inflatable walls are composed of materials that include Kevlar (used to good effect in bullet-proof vests). On the full-scale craft, they would be 40cm thick – enough to resist penetration by most space debris.

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