NASA has penned a $17.8 million deal with Bigelow Aerospace that will bring a (relatively speaking) inexpensive inflatable pod to the International Space Station. The space pod is fabric-based, and could make its way into space by 2015. While its initial test run will be for observation and data, one day the pod could be used, among other things, as a quiet place for astronauts to hang out.
The inflatable pod is called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, Beam for short, and is constructed from layered material, including a bullet-resistant fabric called Vectran. Because of how it is designed, Beam will not tear if a hole is introduced into it. Likewise, it softens noise by absorbing it, and can be folded up and stuffed in a small area like a piece of clothing.
For its first run, the Beam module will be inflated but empty while researchers observe its various details, such as temperatures and how it holds up to space debris. When completely expanded, the pod's dimensions measure in at 13-feet long and 10-feet around, for a total capacity of approximately 560 cubic feet. The module is mounted to the ISS via an air lock.
For now, it is rumored that NASA will use Beam in manned missions, and to build a base on the Moon. At some point, the inflatable pod could also be used to create soft spacecraft, which won't experience a dangerous explosion from air movement if punctured. Likewise, Bigelow himself wants to use the material to create two large modules that will function as the first ever private space station.
[via New York Times]