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New (Old) Inflatables

A new “spin” on an old idea: Clemson Inflatable Fabric Airlock Breezes Through Initial Tests.

Inflatable airlocks aren’t a new idea (Alexei Leonov used one on the first-ever spacewalk), but this new approach is much more advanced. The inflatable airlock is a two layer tube, bounded at either end by metal caps (where, presumably, the inner and outer hatches are). The outer layer (carrying the load of the internal pressure) is a structural braid wound on the world’s largest braiding machine, and the internal pressure is contained by an inner bladder layer. The weight and volume are appreciably less than those of the hard-shell airlock in use on the ISS.

This, along with the related TransHab concept, are the sort of ideas that we ought to be testing in space. Forget space science — we ought to be focusing our activities in LEO on space engineering, specifically in those areas such as inflatable structures which have a high payoff with respect to manned exploration and settlement of the Moon and Mars.

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