New inflatable module will attach to ISS, blow itself up

NASA is in talks with Bigelow Aerospace to potentially acquire a new inflatable module for the International Space Station. Yes, that's right: they're going to blow up the ISS.

Bigelow Aerospace has been at this inflatable space station thing for quite a while, and it's actually got two prototypes in orbit already, demonstrating that making a space station out of glorified party balloons is provably not completely nutso. Of course, Bigelow's modules, while they do inflate, are far more complex than a simple balloon. They contain radiation shielding that's as good as or better than the current shielding on the ISS, and their ballistic shielding (which provides protection against micrometeorites and orbital debris) is also more effective than traditional designs.

NASA is interested in getting in on a piece of the inflatable action for several reasons. The first one is cost: using Bigelow modules, NASA could substantially increase the size of the ISS at a fraction of the cost of more traditional station modules. The other reason is that NASA wants to encourage the commercial aerospace market, and there's no better way to do that than to offer a private company some funding to prove the commercial viability of their product while adding a bunch of space to the ISS on the cheap at the same time.

If the proposal goes ahead, it would only take 24 months from final approval to having an inflatable module in orbit, and once all that checks out, Bigelow will be able to start tossing up inflatable modules for private research stations and space hotels.

Bigelow Aerospace, via Space

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