A new idea for expanding the International Space Station could result in it being called the “Inflatable Space Station” instead.
Adding expansions to the International Space Station isn’t exactly cheap, which means that NASA is considering alternative, less expensive construction methods. One possible technique would include inflating an addition, similar to “blowing up a tire”, provided that NASA and Bigelow Airspace manage to reach a deal.
Nevada-based Bigelow is working to create alternative manufacturing methods for spacecraft and space modules based on its “expandable habitats”. The technology has actually been tested and demonstrated via the launch of Genesis I in 2006 and Genesis II in 2007. As a result, NASA is currently weighting a proposal to use one a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module for the ISS.
If the deal goes through, the module used for the space station would be a slightly larger version of the type used for both Genesis I and II (which are currently in orbit). Theoretically, the module would be flown up to the ISS via a commercial rocket and then attached via robot.
As previously stated, the deal between NASA and Bigelow has yet to be finalized. That said, this is a really neat idea: the new technology could allow NASA to construct/place new portions of the station at a fraction of previous costs, and this is also a big step in the direction of commercial involvement with space exploration (something the Obama Administration has been touting since last year).