The Sierra Nevada Corporation—the company that makes aerospace equipment—showed off its proposed in-space habitat for the first time. The inflatable habitat is very large. It measures more than 8 meters long, and with a diameter of 8 meters has an internal volume of 300 cubic meters, which is about one-third the size of the International Space Station.
Sierra Nevada developed this full-scale prototype under a NASA program that funded several companies to develop habitats that could be used for a space station in orbit around the Moon. It could also potentially serve as living quarters for a long-duration transit to and from Mars. As part of the program, NASA astronauts have, or will, spend three days living in and evaluating the prototypes built by Sierra Nevada, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Bigelow Aerospace.
The main selling point for Sierra Nevada’s habitat is its size, which is possible because the multi-layered fabric material can be compressed for launch, then expanded and outfitted as a habitat once in space. It can fit within a standard payload fairing used for launch vehicles such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan booster, or NASA’s Space Launch System. It is light enough for any of those rockets to launch to the Moon.
“We’re offering a huge amount of volume in a small amount of space,” said five-time NASA astronaut Steve Lindsey, who is vice president of the company’s Space Exploration Systems.
NASA originally solicited the development of these prototypes for its NextSTEP-2 program to develop a habitat module for the Lunar Gateway, a space station in a distant orbit around the Moon. This was to be a fairly large facility that astronauts visited once or twice a year.
Do you think this habitat has a future? Will we be seeing an excursion to Mars in the near future? We look forward to seeing your comments.