The rise of inflatable space structures

Lightweight inflatable structures are set to play a major role in future space exploration.

When holidays to the Moon become a reality, most tourists will probably hope that there will be something more than a soft, inflatable tent to come between them and the deadly vacuum of space. But that is exactly the vision the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA have for space accommodation in the coming decades.

Their concept is to develop inflatable habitats that could allow people to live on the Moon by 2025. The inflatable modules could act as an outpost where supplies would be kept for research missions or they could be made into larger structures to house space tourists. If their plans are successful, inflatable habitats could open up a whole new world of exploration and, according to the ESA, make visiting distant planets a reality.

Rice on Mars
A novel portable greenhouse tent could enable agriculture in space

Aero Sekur has developed a prototype inflatable habitat for space agriculture that could allow the first astronauts landing on Mars to grow their own food.

In March this year, the company announced its plans to grow mustard seeds on the Moon, riding aboard the Odyssey Moon Lander mission, a commercially led lunar mission aimed at winning the Lunar X-Prize, scheduled for launch in 2012. Mark Butler, chief executive of Aero Sekur, said: ’We’re going to be at least one greenhouse up on the next European mission and we’re working with astronauts to develop the right type of system.’

According to the company, space agriculture will be a vital part of colonising distant planets such as Mars. The portable greenhouse could augment astronauts’ diets on long missions or one day allow them to become self-sufficient.