Space station getting inflatable room

Marcia Dunn
Associated Press

Cape Canaveral, Fla – . — Forget blowup air mattresses. Space station astronauts are getting their first inflatable room.

It’s a technology demo meant to pave the way for moon bases and Mars expeditions, as well as orbiting outposts catering to scientists and tourists in just a few more years. Bigelow Aerospace is behind the experiment, which will get a ride to the International Space Station with another private space company.

An unmanned SpaceX Falcon rocket is set to launch late Friday afternoon, carrying a capsule full of supplies with the pioneering pod in its trunk.

Once attached to the station, the soft-sided Bigelow compartment will be inflated to the size of a small bedroom. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, BEAM for short, will stay there for two years — with astronauts occasionally ducking in. It will be the first time an astronaut steps inside an expandable habitat structure in space.

“It’s not just historic for our company, which obviously is the case, but I think it’s historic for the architecture,” said Robert Bigelow, founder and president of Bigelow Aerospace and owner of Budget Suites of America.

As a precursor to larger systems, Bigelow said BEAM could “change the entire dynamic for human habitation” in space. He hopes to have a pair of private space stations ready for launch by 2020.

The North Las Vegas-based company won’t divulge the material used for BEAM’s outer layers.

The collapsed BEAM measures about 7 feet long and 8 feet in diameter. Inflated, it will be about 13 feet long and 10½ feet in diameter, and provide 565 cubic feet of space.