Announced last year, the full-scale mock-ups of the Nautilus space-station module features two 22-foot-diameter inflatable modules.
Developed at NASA as part of a project called TransHab, inflatable space-station modules weigh less, and they launch in a compressed state which allows them to use less-powerful launch vehicles and makes for roomier space stations. After a rocket fires a Nautilus into space, explosive bolts will release the girdle securing the compressed hull, and then the station’s life support system, housed in the core, will inflate the structure with breathable air. Power comes from solar panels.
Bigelow Aerospace is also floating a $50-million prize to entice other companies to create a safe, reliable orbital space vehicle to transport guests to the front door—or rather, the airlock.
If all goes well with orbital tests of one-third-scale modules to be launched at the end of the year, the first habitable Nautilus could be launched in 2008.
See also NASA’s inflatable Tumbleweed rover.