There are two things that come at a premium when living aboard the International Space Station: personal space and fresh vegetables. But thanks to an ingenious new inflatable habitat that's currently being tested, our space-faring scientists will soon have more of both.
Built by private space company Bigelow Aerospace, the BEAM (or Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) measures 4m long by 3m wide when fully inflated by the supply of compressed nitrogen and oxygen that forms its internal atmosphere. More importantly, it only weighs about 1360kg -- that's 70 per cent lighter than a similarly sized rigid module -- and can be folded up like an Aerobed and shoved into the unpressurised cargo hold of a Dragon Capsule for easy transport to LEO.
It is currently tethered to the ISS and is undergoing reliability testing, serving as a temporary grow room for an unrelated experiment on the effectiveness of growing vegetables and other crops in space. NASA's spent about $US17.8 million on this two-year feasibility study. But if it's successful, it could provide a fast and easy way of expanding the ISS' capacity. Each BEAM holds six astronauts or, conceivably, well-paying space tourists.
What's more, Bigelow is already hard at work on an even bigger version of the BEAM, dubbed the BA 330. Each of those would offer nine cubic metres of space and could be daisy-chained together to form a massive orbiting space station in a fraction of the time and effort it took to put the ISS together. We are seriously this close to having a real life Capsule Corp. Capsule House, and it's going to be freaking awesome. [Technabob - The Space Reporter - Bigelow Aerospace]