Bigelow Aerospace is designing a plug-in module to expand living space on the International Space Station. Larger expandable modules could someday become free-flying space stations themselves.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will be carried into orbit by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, stowed in the cargo trunk of a Dragon capsule. A robot arm will dock BEAM to Node 3 of the International Space Station.
BEAM is 13 feet long (4 meters) and 10.5 feet in diameter (3.2 m). The module weighs 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms)
A larger inflatable module called BA 330 is being developed for use as a stand-alone space station. Larger than the International Space Station's existing Destiny habitation module, each BA 330 can house up to six astronauts. Bigelow plans a two-module outpost called Alpha Station which could be orbited after 2016.
The BA 330’s internal volume is 11,654 cubic feet (330 cubic meters). The length is 45 feet (13.7 m) and its diameter is 22 feet (6.7 m)
Further in the future, inflatable modules could enhance the living volumes of deep-space stations, lunar bases or even Mars expeditions.
The inflatable space station concept dates to the 1960s. Kevlar, the material used for bullet-proof vests, inspired NASA to take another look at inflatable space modules in the 1990s. NASA’s module, called Trans-Hab, never flew and was officially canceled in 2000.