How Inflatable Spacecraft Will Work

By: Kevin Bonsor

Inflatable Space Habitats

Space inflatables, like the TransHab, will be used as living quarters for space travelers.
Space inflatables, like the TransHab, will be used as living quarters for space travelers.
Photo courtesy NASA

The use of space inflatables won't be limited to unmanned spacecraft and telescopes. NASA has a much more ambitious plan to build inflatable space habitats. The first of these inflatable space habitats, called TransHab, is already in development and could become the living quarters for the International Space Station (ISS) as soon as 2005.

The three-story inflatable will be blown up possibly using nitrogen gas that would fill the spacecraft with several blasts of air. TransHab has been tested to blow up in about 10 minutes once it docks with the ISS, and it should easily stay inflated in the vacuum of space for the life of the craft.


You might picture TransHab as a large balloon connected to the space station. And you might think that it would be susceptible to projectiles in space, such as small asteroids. In fact, tiny meteorites flying through space can travel at speeds seven times as fast as a bullet. Engineers building TransHab have taken this threat into consideration in building the space station residence.

TransHab's skin has been made of materials that allow it to deflect such projectiles. The one-foot-thick shell is composed of 12 different layers that are designed to break tiny particles of space debris that might hit the shell. The outer shell is made of a Kevlar webbing rated to withstand 12,500 pounds. The layers underneath are made out of Nextel, a ceramic fabric. These layers also protect the occupants from temperatures from 250 degrees Fahrenheit to minus 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Take a closer look at the layers of the TransHab on this page.

At launch, TransHab will have a diameter of 14 feet (4.3 meters), but once it is inflated it will have a diameter of 27 feet (8.2 m), and have a volume of 12,000 cubic feet (339.8 cubic meters). The interior of the 23-foot tall inflated space module will be divided into three floors. The galley and dining table will be located on the first floor. Six sleeping compartments (81 cubic feet per compartment) will be located on the second floor. Each compartment will contain a personal storage area and a computer entertainment center for recreation and personal work. And on the third floor, space station residents will find an exercise space, medical areas and bathrooms.

If humans are to ever go to Mars or set up temporary residence on the moon, we will need to develop closed habitats like the TransHab. Inflatables would be ideal for lunar and Martian colonies because they are compact enough for colonists to take with them.

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