Inflatable Lunar Habitat to Be Tested in Antarctica

As humans prepare to return to the Moon, this time to stay, there are so many different technologies that need to be developed and tested. NASA and the NSF are testing out a new prototype for an inflatable habitat that might eventually protect humans on the Moon. And they’re testing it in the most extreme place on Earth: Antarctica.

The newly developed inflatable habitat is inflated and pressurized, giving potential astronauts their own atmosphere. Inside the tent is heated, offering up 35 square metres (384 square feet) of living space, under a 2.4-metre (8-foot) ceiling. It also has access points for electrical power.

NASA currently uses a 50-year old tent design called a Jamesway hut. Television viewers will recognize these designs in the show M*A*S*H. Although there are new approaches to this old design, they’re rigid, difficult to ship, and have limited insulation. When you’re working in Antarctica, a lack of insulation is a serious problem.

The purpose of this new design is to test out how well an inflatable habitat will work in terms of packing, transportation, set up, power consumption and damage tolerance.

When astronauts do finally return to the Moon by 2020, they’ll be setting up a permanent lunar outpost. An inflatable habitat like this could be carried on future lunar rovers, and would allow the astronauts to set up a temporary home, far away from the permanent base. This would greatly increase their range, and allow the exploration of the most interesting lunar features – not just those nearby the base.

The inflatable habitat is being developed under NASA’s Innovative Partnerships Program.

Original Source: NSF News Release

2 Replies to “Inflatable Lunar Habitat to Be Tested in Antarctica”

  1. Actually, while I agree that it needs to be tested before use, this is a little much. There are many places on Earth with environments that make the Moon look positively benign. (Try building a shirtsleeve home under 300 feet of water)
    Erecting an inflatable building on the moon has many advantages. Consider:
    You are in a vacumn. This is good. No wind load. Look at the diagram. Look how much work is going into over coming the problems caused by moving air, wind loads. On the moon, all of that is eliminated. The only loads on the structure are caused by the movement of people within it bouncing into the floor and sides, and by people and equipment bouncing into it on the outside. That can be handled by bags on the outside edges filled with a few hundred pounds of lunar dirt. Plentiful, cheap.
    The only other considerations are thermal protection, and someway to keep it from being degraded by solar radiation in all of its forms. More dirt and/or use a mylar film. Micrometorites? More dirt.
    It is a vacumn. So it only takes a load of 12.3 psi. That is not much. It only needs to take that much so that humans can breath (that is the pressure at 5000 ft, the altitude of Denver)
    One of the problems with our approach to space, and our lack of progress, is the tendency to over test and engineer. Build one. Put it in orbit by the ISS. Live in it there for a year where rescue is easy. Then go back to the moon. Take another lunar Rover, with a dozer blade and shovels. Don’t overcomplicate it. KISS! But of course NASA would rather spend money on useless research/development reinventing the wheel. than on actual exploration/colonization.

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