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Inflatable Private Space Station Launched 233

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the springing-a-leak-a-real-bummer dept.
Anonymous_Space_Ranger writes "CNN is reporting that the first steps to have a private space station are underway in Russia. While today's launch is unmanned, it is designed to orbit the planet for 5 years while the durability of the design is tested and future flights are planned around it." From the article: "[Robert] Bigelow envisions building a private orbiting space complex by 2015 that would be made up of several expandable Genesis-like modules linked together and could be used as a hotel, or perhaps a science lab or college. He has committed $500 million toward the project."
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Inflatable Private Space Station Launched

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  • Re:Inflatable? (Score:5, Informative)

    by hey! (33014) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @03:28PM (#15707590) Homepage Journal
    With ovre 4 million pounds of space junk flying around at speeds up to 17,500


    Well, according to the TFA:

    Equipped with a dozen cameras to be aimed at the Earth, it is supposed to circle the planet for at least five years while scientists study its durability.


    So, the idea is to determine exactly what the risks would be.

    After all, to coin a phrase, "Space is big...". If you put it in the right place, made it able to heal from smaller bits hitting it, and limited your stay to a few weeks, your statistically greatest risk would be from getting up there and back. If you're 100x as likely to blow up on the way up or burn up on the way down than to have your space station smashed by space junk, it's not worth worrying about the space junk.
  • by dschmelzer (198261) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @03:29PM (#15707598) Homepage
    About 2.5 hours from now, the module will phone home and we will get a better sense of how the module is doing. Here are some additional resources...

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/5173388.stm [bbc.co.uk]
    http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/060712_genesi s-1_launch.html [space.com]
    http://www.bigelowaerospace.com/ [bigelowaerospace.com]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bigelow_Aerospace [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:Inflatable? (Score:5, Informative)

    by earnest murderer (888716) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @03:30PM (#15707605)
    At those speeds, debris punches holes in metal just as easily.
  • Re:Inflatable? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mr. Flibble (12943) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @04:06PM (#15707916) Homepage
    3) Nobody is tracking the larger space junk.

    NORAD - from 1968. Yes, the space junk is still tracked today.
    http://archives.cbc.ca/IDCC-1-71-1552-10481/confli ct_war/norad/ [archives.cbc.ca]

    Or were you using the sarcasm tag? I could not tell.
  • Re:Inflatable? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Vellmont (569020) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @04:08PM (#15707935)

    Maybe passing through an occupant on the way through. That doesn't sound very safe to me.

    Welcome to space. It's not safe. Neither is mountain climbing or skydiving, yet people do these activities all the time. Also you should probbably be comparing the risk of being hit by space junk with the risk of dying on re-entry or liftoff. I'd be willing to bet that the risks posed by space junk are a LOT smaller than liftoff/re-entry.

    Also try to remeber that although there's a lot of junk, it's spread out over a VERY large area. The size of human being is relatively small, so it's not terribly likely that someone would be hit by space junk.
  • by dschmelzer (198261) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @04:14PM (#15707981) Homepage
    Your best bet is Clark Lindsay's RLV and Space Transport News.

    http://www.hobbyspace.com/nucleus/index.php [hobbyspace.com]

    You are right that Bigelow Aerospace isn't very press-savvy. But they seem to be remedying that problem slowly.
  • Re:Inflatable? (Score:2, Informative)

    by brother bloat (888898) <brother...bloat@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @04:20PM (#15708035) Homepage
    Not to mention all that nasty radiation.

    Not to mention all that debris and junk that will no doubt be floating around inside this structure. Something Hollywood doesn't portray is the sheer amount of crap (sometimes literally fecal matter) and general gross-ness in weightlessness. Remember Newton's laws? If you cough, saliva travels until it hits something -- then it sticks, since it's moist. In the high humidity environment, bacterias, molds, and other fun stuff run rampant. Got crumbs in space? You're going to be breathing them in, big time.

    Severe skin infections and aspiration pneumonia are common in space. Going to the bathroom is a science experiment gone bad (think vacuum cleaner). If you stay in space more than 11 months, your skeleton and muscles become weakened permenantly. Fluids shift towards your head, causing your face to become puffy and swollen.

    All in all, in spite of the view (which would probably be spectacular), I would personally never stay in a weightless environment for an extended period of time, such as implied by a hotel or college setting.

    I say these things not to be a troll - I think it's an admirable idea, and my hat is off to whoever decides to live on this contraption. I just want to remind people that space is dangerous and dirty; it's not the sterile wonderland from the movies we've all come to know and love.

  • by xp65 (988513) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @04:36PM (#15708155) Homepage

    You can find more technical details about the launch on the space fellowship: http://www.spacefellowship.com/News/?p=1614 [spacefellowship.com]

    We can expect video's and pictures, of the "living" annimals etc!

  • by zlogic (892404) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @04:44PM (#15708225) Homepage
    What about traditional spacecraft? Most manned ships are in fact metallic balloons that have enormous inside pressure (compared to the outside). The only difference is that traditional metal spaceships don't ever change their size or shape. Oh, and BTW the Volga airlock made for the first Soviet EVA was made of fabric. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voskhod_2 [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:Inflatable? (Score:5, Informative)

    by FleaPlus (6935) * on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @05:55PM (#15708759) Journal
    With ovre 4 million pounds of space junk flying around at speeds up to 17,500... I for one would NOT want to be in an inflatable structure. Wow!

    Many people hear "inflatable structure" and think of some sort of balloon ready to pop at the smallest prick. Bigelow's structure are actually quite sturdy though, arguably more durable than the ISS's walls. From a BBC article on the launch:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/5173388.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    It is built around a rigid central core and two solid bulkheads. The inflatable walls are composed of a range of materials including Kevlar, often used in bullet-proof vests, and a fibrous textile called Vectran.

    The walls are designed to be airtight and tough, to withstand the impact of space debris and small meteorites.

    On a full-scale module, each wall would be 40cm (16 inches) thick.

    "It's extremely durable and resistant to any puncture or penetration," said Mr Bigelow.
  • by iamlucky13 (795185) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @06:27PM (#15708979)
    It seems this point has to be made 3 or 4 times every time a submission about Bigelow comes up...and people still don't believe it. Zodiak boats are a perfect example of a robust inflatable structure. Another good example is a tire. Compare the impact resistance of those things to a thin sheet of aluminum!

    The inflatable module is really only different in that uses air pressure to maintain its shape instead of framework (actually, there is a framed core down the middle with avionics and inflation equipment and to support mounting equipment inside the pressurized portion...also similar to Zodiaks). The skin is several layers of different insulating, containing, and protective materials. Some of these are tougher than Kevlar! The result is a module that is (hopefully) stronger by weight than equivalent rigid capsules, has more interior volume, and fits in a smaller launch fairing.

    Along with the confusion about the vulnerability being similar to a balloon, people also get confused about the volume. Unlike a balloon, it doesn't grow to several dozen times its packed volume. I think it's closer to a factor of 2 or 3, depending on the model. It won't revolutionize living in space, but if it lives up to its potential, it will be another step in the right direction.

    FYI, NASA originally started development work on the technology under the Spacehab project to be used for one or two modules on the ISS. Due to budget constraints and time limits, they chose the traditional modules and set the development effort aside until Bigelow bought rights to the technology. The technology might also see applications in long-term lunar or Martian bases.

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