Inflatable Spacecraft

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Space Technology Inflatable Spacecraft

July, 2013 Inflatbale Space Station Capsul RKK Energia, Russia Russia

Matt Whitham

RKK Energia, the manufacturer of the Soyuz spacecraft and the prime contractor on the Russian part of the Inter- national Space Station, quietly published in its annual report last week details on an innovative inflatable space habitat.

Wrapped into multilayered synthetic skin instead of metal, the expandable module could be attached to the Russian part of the International Space Station and inflated like a beach ball, providing greater com- fort for the crew and extra room for yet-to-be-disclosed experiments, RKK Energia‘s report said. Thanks to its compact size during the launch (the most expensive phase of any space mission), inflatable struc- tures promise to deliver much more habitable volume per unit of mass than the one available inside the tra- ditional spacecraft. According to Russian researchers, inflatable modules will provide three times more volume and 1.5 more surface area per unit of mass than traditional metal structures. Also, inflatable mo- dules promise lighter and better micrometeoroid and radiation shielding than would metal spacecraft.

The Russian company began work on this exotic technology in 2011 using its own funds and is currently working on a scaled-down prototype. Eventually, RKK Energia hopes to get a contract from the Russian space agency, Roscos- mos, to build the full-scale inflatable habitat. RKK Energia did not disclose any details about the composition or properties of the skin comprising its flexible structure beyond saying it would use domestically produced materials.

Original sources: own-15706708