Making space history, SpaceX just delivered an inflatable room to the International Space Station. Delivered in just two days after launch from Cape Canaveral, the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship carried the blow-up room as part of a full 7,000 pound payload, as reported on ABC News. Unfortunately, the astronauts won’t be playing ping-pong in the new room anytime soon. It’s not schedule to be inflated until sometime next month.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has had two recent wins. On Friday a Falcon 9 booster rocket successfully landed on a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean. This was the second time SpaceX has successfully recovered a first stage from one of its Falcon 9 rockets after launching a payload into orbit. Reusing these first stage boosters could significantly lower the cost of space delivery and travel.
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The inflatable room, a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), was manufactured by Bigelow Aerospace. When inflated it will be about the size of a small bedroom. No one gets to sleep in the new quarters, however, this first room addition will be used for testing and measuring. Astronauts will only get in a couple times a year to take readings and replace sensors. If everything tests as hoped, future blow-up modules could be used for housing. Bigelow also plans to build and launch private inflatable space stations about four years from now.
Another dramatic aspect of the SpaceX Dragon delivery arrival was its successful coupling with the space station. The SpaceX craft was put into close orbit around the station, where huge robotic arms grabbed it, pulled it into place, and locked the module onto one of the space station’s six docking ports. Timothy Peake, the British the astronaut who worked the controls during the docking procedure, said, “It looks like we caught a Dragon.” For the first time in five years all six ports were occupied, with four delivery transports and two crew quarters modules.
The steps to exploration and living in space may seem slow, but every success is relished. The future ramifications of inflatable quarters could set the stage for a condo development with the best views ever.