Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Moon Camp

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney NSW
As previously noted NASA spent good money several years ago developing inflatable habitats but decided not to use them for the Space Station. Fortunately, Robert Bigelow picked up were NASA left of and now there's a prototype inflatable habitat orbiting Earth.

Well, it looks like NASA has now decided that inflatable habitats may be useful after all and is testing one for possible deployment on the Moon. They intend to trial a unit in Antarctica next year.

...The first steps in making a lunar outpost a reality are being taken now, as planners intensify their efforts to determine what it will take for humans to safely live and work on the lunar surface.
One team of experts from NASA's Langley Research Center, NASA's Johnson Space Center and NASA contractor ILC Dover LP is looking at inflation-deployed expandable structures as one possible building block for a lunar base.
"Inflatables can be used as connectors or tunnels between crew quarters and can provide radiation shelter if covered with lunar regolith (soil)," said Chris Moore, Exploration Technology Development Program program executive at NASA Headquarters.
As a starting point, ILC Dover has delivered a 12-foot (3.65 meter) diameter inflatable structure made of multilayer fabric to Langley for ground-based evaluation of emerging technologies such as flexible structural health monitoring systems, self-healing materials and radiation protective materials. Attached to the structure is a smaller inflatable structure that serves as a demonstration airlock. Both are essentially pressurized cylinders, connected by an airtight door.
The "planetary surface habitat and airlock unit" can also be used to evaluate materials, lightweight structure technologies, astronaut interfaces, dust mitigation techniques, and function with robotics and other lunar surface equipment.
"Inflatable structures are very robust and adaptable. This demonstrator will show the capabilities of inflatable structures in future demonstrations at Langley and Johnson," said Dave Cadogan, research and development manager at ILC Dover.
In the next phase, the team will perform an architecture study comparing inflatable and rigid structures for crew habitats.
"This follow-on work will allow us to mature inflatable technology by designing and fabricating sub-scale inflatable components for more detailed testing," said Inflatable Structures Project lead Karen Whitley of Langley.
In a related development, the government-industry team -- spurred by a NASA Johnson proposal led by Larry Toups, space architect at Johnson -- will work with the National Science Foundation to build an inflatable structure for demonstration in the Antarctic. While not the lunar surface (or the top of an imaginary mountain), the harsh environment of the Antarctic will provide valuable lessons.
Once inflated, the unit will likely serve as a dry storage facility and be monitored for its behavior. The work is expected to start shortly. ILC Dover is contributing to the manufacturing of the unit, while Langley and Johnson will contribute a modest amount of manpower. The goal is to transport the unit to the Antarctic in 2008 -- in time to learn more about inflatable structures before decisions must be made between competing technologies for NASA's first habitable lunar base....