Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace recently partnered with United Launch Alliance, which is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, on an expandable space station. The fully autonomous, B330 inflatable craft would provide astronauts with living space, working labs, and even an area for farming.
The self-contained stations could even serve as a sort of space yacht for wealthy vacationers.
The B330 was designed to function as a semi-permanent moon station, with its ability to be inflated to five times its travel size being its biggest advantage. The unit is comprised of a multi-layered Kevlar-like material and is about one-third the size of the International Space Station.
While it might sound like science fiction, inflatable space habitats are already in use. A one-room module is currently attached to the Space Station and being tested for expanded use.
The next step for Bigelow is raising funds that would allow for testing the B330 in a low-Earth orbit before going to the moon via a Vulcan 562 rocket.
Lately, the moon has re-entered conversations related to space travel. While commercial endeavors such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are targeting the moon as tourism destinations, many see reaching the moon as the first leg for journeys to Mars.
A number of researchers at MIT feel using the moon as a pit stop of sorts could save billions of dollars for Mars trips. This concept might also be why both China and Japan have made the moon a priority for upcoming space missions.
Bigelow said it hopes to put the B330 expandable space habitat into lunar orbit by 2022.