Inflatable technology: using flexible materials to make large structures
Space structures are one of the most critical components for any spacecraft, as they must provide the maximum amount of livable volume with the minimum amount of mass. Deployable structures can be used to gain additional space that would not normally fit under a launch vehicle shroud. This expansion capability allows it to be packed in a small launch volume for launch, and deploy into its fully open volume once in space. Inflatable, deployable structures in particular, have been investigated by NASA since the early 1950’s and used in a number of spaceflight applications. Inflatable satellites, booms, and antennas can be used in low-Earth orbit applications. Inflatable heatshields, decelerators, and airbags can be used for entry, descent and landing applications. Inflatable habitats, airlocks, and space stations can be used for in-space living spaces and surface exploration missions. Inflatable blimps and rovers can be used for advanced missions to other worlds. These applications are just a few of the possible uses for inflatable structures that will continued to be studied as we look to expand our presence throughout the solar system.