Skip to Content
Space

This inflatable space home could give future astronauts room to stretch out

August 22, 2019
sierra nevada inflatable habitat
sierra nevada inflatable habitatSierra Nevada Corporation

American aerospace company Sierra Nevada has unveiled a full-scale prototype for a brand-new inflatable habitat that could be home to future astronauts living and working in deep space.

What is it? The module, which was unveiled at Johnson Space Center in Houston on Wednesday, is 26 feet (8 meters) in diameter and has an internal volume of about 10,000 cubic feet. In the three-floor design, the first floor is for food and equipment storage; the second floor houses the farming module and laboratory instruments for experiments, and the third floor is for sleeping and dining.

Why build it? The new model is just one-third the volume of the International Space Station, but the ISS was built from multiple pieces that were launched and assembled separately over the years. An inflatable module can be compressed and stored in a single launch payload, and then deployed and expanded in just days. Sierra Nevada’s module is made of vectron, the same lightweight material that is used to make bulletproof vests, and can shrink down to about a little less than 10 feet, easily fitting the payload fairings of most heavy rockets. 

What’s next? In 2016, NASA selected Sierra Nevada as one of six aerospace companies to build and test small space habitats for its Lunar Gateway project, a space station that would operate as a jumping-off point for future missions beyond the moon. Northrup Grumman was given a contract to actually build its module, so it’s unclear exactly what Sierra Nevada will do with its module now.

It might work as an ISS attachment (like Bigelow Aerospace’s BEAM expandable module). Alternatively, it could be used in a new low-Earth-orbit station, or it could still play a role in journeys to the moon or Mars. 

The Airlock, our space newsletter, is coming back soon! Get ready by signing up for free here.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks

One insider says the company’s current staffing isn’t able to sustain the platform.

Technology that lets us “speak” to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready?

Digital clones of the people we love could forever change how we grieve.

How to befriend a crow

I watched a bunch of crows on TikTok and now I'm trying to connect with some local birds.

Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS—whether SpaceX likes it or not

Elon said no thanks to using his mega-constellation for navigation. Researchers went ahead anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.