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May 28, 2016, 09:36 PM
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Inflating the gigelow

Deuce Bigelow isn't known for before & after photos, because his modules aren't really as inflatable as balloons. The 1st 2 were privately funded cylinders launched on Proton rockets, back when Proton rockets worked. They didn't expand in length & only slightly in diameter.

10 years & a few waves of RIFs later, they finally launched their last module using NASA funding. 2 months later, it was inflated. There are no official before & after photos, but some careful editing revealed the size change. It was a bit more impressive in length than the 1st 2, but still not inflating significantly in diameter. It has no life support, relying entirely on the space station for air. It can't be used for living space.

Their plan is in 5 or 10 years, with any luck, getting a 43,000lb module up. Too heavy for a Falcon 9, so it would require an Atlas 5. There are no diagrams of how an inflatable module is built, but it is known that the walls contain bladders which dictate the shape of the module. The bladders are filled to a different pressure than the habitable space. The walls of the NASA module were not disclosed. The walls of the hypothetical 43,000lb module would be 18in thick.

For all the efficiency of spherical space stations, the modules can't be spheres. They have to be confined to the shape of the payload fairing, which is still a cylinder.

For all the complexity of inflation, inflatable modules don't increase the amount of junk you can put in space. They just increase the amount of space humans can move around in. Giving humans more space to bounce around has never been a priority. If they were to increase the amount of junk, it would have to be junk that expanded like the module.

The most practical application is growing food in space. The junk would be elemental carbon. That would expand into plants through conversion to CO2. It would be quite an experiment to make a self sustaining space colony out of Gigelow modules growing food, but it won't happen in our lifetimes. After 50 years, plants are only being grown in space at the rate of 1 head of lettuce every few decades.
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