back to article Bubble baron treats Space Station crew to blowup model

NASA has enlisted Bigelow Aerospace to build an inflatable module for the International Space Station. Bigelow BA 330 Behold, the proposed orbiting balloon thing Bigelow Aerospace (BA), founded by space baron Robert Bigelow in 1999, will get $17.8m to put together the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module - a blowup space …


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  1. Nick Davey

    What happens when....

    they get struck by micro-meteorites? In space, no one can hear the noise of rapid deflation!

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: What happens when....

      I know I'm just a bit silly here but that question crossed my mind as well: how to pop the balloon?

      1. JetSetJim

        Re: What happens when....

        Perhaps instead these could be used as a target to get hit by all that space debris we have in various orbits?

    2. Captain TickTock

      Re: What happens when....

      They're supposed to resist micro-meteorites better than a rigid shell. something like kevlar.

    3. Crisp

      Re: What happens when they get struck by micro-meteorites?

      I guess they would coat the vulnerable parts in that new self healing ballistic gel.

    4. Ru

      Re: What happens when....

      Strangely enough, the inflatable spacestation design has had some actual scientist and engineer time expended upon it. Turns out that they actually thought about the micrometeorite issue too, demonstrating that they are at least as clever as your average commentard.

      Two prototype inflatable modules have already been launched, and notably failed to pop instantly despite not having any repair crew on board. I believe that Bigelow Aerospace have at least two years of temperature, pressure and radiation telemetry from their Genesis 2 platform; I'm too lazy to find out if they have more, but they aren't just a company of marketers.

      The issue of radiation protection was also raised below... exactly how much shielding do you guys suppose that the ISS is fitted with?

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: What happens when....

        I seem to remember my old design lectuerer (whose dissertation had been on the Spitfire) talking about WW2 aircraft with canvas surfaces instead of aluminium. Apparently they suffered less damage from bullets, since they passed straight through instead of punching a big hole.

        I would imagine that a micro-meteor would make a smaller hole in a canvas membrane than it would in a metal one, so giving the astronaut with the puncture-repair kit more time to respond.

        (I appreciate that there no-doubt other factors I know nothing about)

      2. MrXavia
        Thumb Up

        Re: What happens when....

        I am pretty sure Bigalow actually brought the tech from NASA in the first place, it was intended for use originally on a Mars mission, then it was adapted for Space, and then the idea was cancelled, tech sold off (political reasons I believe)...

        Then it was brought up and have been proven by Bigalow, I guess now its no longer an internal thing I guess its ok.

    5. LarsG

      Carry On Camping

      Will it have an integrated toilet, or will they have an attached portaloo?

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      All you concerned individuals, what it this happened, what if that happen, how will they do that, what if, what if, what if?

      It ain't gonna concern any of you is it? So why worry?

  2. John Ruddy

    Nothing New

    This sort of development has been in many a science fiction story. However, the big question is what about when the module is hit by something? Much more likle some space debris, rather than a micro-meteor

    1. hplasm
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Nothing New

      Indeed- see Icon....

      Another Balloon that has absorbed a lot of Hotel Tycoon's money- but of far less use...

    2. Rattus Rattus

      Re: Nothing New

      If it is hit by space debris then it is fucked - just like anything else we put up there. The real way to deal with orbital debris of any size is not to weather the impact but to track it and move out of the way.

  3. Neil Barnes Silver badge


    micrometeorites leave correspondingly small holes. Deflation is therefore slow, no?

    Though the *real* way to use bubbles is to:

    1) catch a convenient iron asteroid

    2) make a big silver mylar mirror to focus sunlight on it

    3) wait until it melts

    4) poke some water into the middle and flash it to steam

    5) hey presto, instant steel bubble.

    But this is a nice start.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: But...

      @Neil Barnes

      You missed the bit where you have to spin the asteroid on its axis really, really fast, so as to cause the expanding steam to push the asteroid out into a spherical shape.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: But...

        Nah, you spin it if you want a cylinder hab, complete with gravity on the, er, inside of the outside.

        Otherwise, let it melt and surface tension will turn it into a sphere (probably covered in slag!). Pump water into the middle, and pouff!

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: But...

          If you're counting on surface tension to create a spheroid, you're talking abotu hollowing out Vesta or Orcus to start, methinks. Not Apophis.

  4. Swarthy

    New record for High-Altitute Ballooning?

    Put a bunch of 'em together in (say) L2 or Earth-Moon L4/5, and use them as a stepping stone station. I believe SPB should get in on this, as it will be the ultimate ballocket.

    1. NoneSuch Silver badge

      Re: New record for High-Altitute Ballooning?

      Members of the SPB have been investigating the advantages of blow up technology for many years. Usually after too many brewski's in Soho.

  5. Colin Millar

    Nice try but

    That's surely a HozeLock connector at the left

  6. DJ 2

    And what protection from radiation does that provide?

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      As much as any other ISS module. They have a special radiation shelter for a reason.

  7. mark 63 Silver badge

    Its a tent!

    number one on my list of places unsuitable for camping - SPACE!

    1. Simon Harris

      Re: Its a tent!

      number one on my list of places unsuitable for camping - SPACE!

      because you're not allowed to pee inside the tent!

      <-- best not to have too many of these then!

  8. TeeCee Gold badge

    "...such as a launch to Mars."

    They're going to need a really bloody big one if it's to go "Thrrrrrwwwwwwrrrrrrpppppppppp" all the way to Mars after they've stuck a pin in it.

  9. TRT Silver badge

    Do they come in red?

    If so, I'll take 99 of them, please!

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Do they come in red?

      Thank you, Nena. Your coat? Allow me...

  10. frank ly

    Can you hear the hiss ......

    ... of escaping air from inside the inflatable structure, or do you need to go outside to listen for it?

    Note: You won't be able to put that thing in a bucket of water to look for leaks.

    1. Steve the Cynic

      Re: Can you hear the hiss ......

      Sure you will. You just need the right sized bucket...

      1. MrT

        Plenty of room...

        ...once they finish testing and take Saturn out ...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Can you hear the hiss ......

      They have already developed patch kits IIRC

  11. PaulyV

    pin pricks

    Large and inflatable, but compartmentalised I presume?

  12. Some Call Me Tim

    Fun with Foam

    I believe that they are not filled with just air like a party balloon which is either likely to slowly deflate or go pop! they are filled with an expanding foam which I'm taking hardens later like cavity wall insulation.

  13. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

    Isn't this

    Blown up out of all proportion?

  14. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    From what I understand and remember of the design, the walls of the inflatable structure are a multiple layer compartmentalised layout. The flexibility will absorb much of the impact of a small object, and the multiple layered walls are designed, similar to kevlar or passive reactive armour, to reduce and / or deflect the impact of any hit.

    The general consensus I've heard is that they're just as safe as standard rigid structures in space, but have a far superior weight to volume ratio.

    Current rigid space habitats are very susceptible to orbital hits and when an object the size of a small marble is travelling at 10-30k kph it really doesn't make much difference what the structure is made of, it's more important what the object is made of. To reduce the chance of serious damage there is usually a forward facing (orbital direction) lump of material to get in the way, often a thick part of something that was being sent up anyway. Small objects that can be vaporised, (ice, etc) can be effectively protected against using a multiple layer shield where the outer layer forces the object to vaporise, a gap or filling material slows down the resultant smaller object (droplets) and an inner layer absorbs the impact relatively unscathed.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      "Current rigid space habitats are very susceptible to orbital hits and when an object the size of a small marble is travelling at 10-30k kph it really doesn't make much difference what the structure is made of"

      Marble? I think you're looking at something often the size of shotgun pellets and smaller.

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        It all depends on your idea of a small marble :)

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Let's just hope it...

    has at least 6000 hulls.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  16. Herby

    One way to check if it works:

    Make up an inflatable and push it along with some other science to some outboard planet. Part of the science would be to detect leaks and how they work. While the balloon might be large physically, its mass would (hopefully) be quite small, and since mass is the driving cost factor, it would be a cheap experiment. The next question for everyone is what shape this blow-up device would take. I'll leave it to others to speculate, but I understand there are LOTS of example of blow-ups here on earth.

    1. Rattus Rattus

      "... LOTS of example of blow-ups here on earth"

      Are you suggesting we might have the first ever sheep-shaped spacecraft?

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: "... LOTS of example of blow-ups here on earth"

        Ewe have arrived at your destination. Your ram ship is in orbit around Baaaaaaaarnards Star. Ready to open air-flock?

  17. Don Jefe

    Space Baron?

    No. Space entrepreneur sure, but not a space baron. He's the owner of a chain of super shitty hotels so he can be accurately called a motel/hotel baron, not a space baron. We don't have any of those yet.

  18. James Hughes 1

    Once again

    Stunned by some of the more moronic comments here. Clue to commentators - when you make a comment, it's worth doing a minimum of 5s with Google before writing about the obvious (to you) deficiencies in a design. Chances are, since the people making the design have worked in the industry for some time, they do ACTUALLY KNOW MORE ABOUT IT THAT YOU DO.

    So, with my 5s with Google, I found this reference about the Bigelow inflatable modules, and their micro meteor shielding.

    You're welcome to that 5s.

    1. Bill B
      Thumb Down

      Re: Once again

      James, I'm sorry to have to say this, but you have COMPLETELY missed the point of being a true commentard. There are several requirements before you can achieve this status

      1) You should only read the first few paragraphs of the article.

      2) Cross references or links to the original article should NEVER be read.

      3) Never do your own research on the article in question.

      4) You should immediately hit the reply button and say the first thing that comes into your head.

      5) Don't use a spell chequer. If you can confuse "it's" and "its" even better.

      6) Remember that you are the expert on the subject, whatever it is, and that all the other commentards (and the author of the article) are idiots.

      7) Deride anyone who has a different opinion to yourself, since they obviously have no brain (see 6 above).

      8) Try to use any of the phrases "sheeple", "fanbois", "fandroids" at least once (if you can get all three in so much the better).

      Your comment failed on a large number of these points although I congratulate you on the capitals.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Once again

        Bill B,

        It's rediculous that you forgot to mention spelling loose as lose!!!!!1111!!!!!!

        I don't recall ever seeing ridiculous spelled incorrectly until last year, and now I see it a rediculous number of times... It's enough to make me loose my temper.

        [I feel dirty now]

  19. TedF

    Very reasonable

    $17.8 million seems very reasonable; have they taken inflation into account?

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