This ‘inflatable space yacht’ could be in orbit by 2022

Inflatable space habitats may sound like the stuff of science fiction to some, but such a contraption actually already exists in the form of a one-room module currently attached to the International Space Station for testing.

Built by Las Vegas-based Bigelow, the company now has its eye on taking its blow-up living area far beyond the space station, all the way to the moon.

Partnering with United Launch Alliance — a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin Space Systems — Bigelow said it hopes to send put the B330 expandable space habitat into lunar orbit by 2022.

Announcing the ambitious project this week, Bigelow president Robert Bigelow said the fully autonomous space station would provide anchorage “for significant lunar business development in addition to offering NASA and other governments the moon as a new, exciting location to conduct long-term exploration and astronaut training.”

Bigelow’s B330 habitat — a larger version of the BEAM module currently attached to the space station — is composed of a super-strong, multi-layered Kevlar-esque material. One of its big advantages is that it can be packed into a small space for cheaper and more efficient transportation before being inflated to five times its original size once in space. NASA first outlined the idea for BEAM before Bigelow took on its development about 10 years ago.

The company says the expandable habitat, which is about a third of the size of the space station — has the potential to be used for pretty much anything, including a microgravity research center, a space farm, a dormitory for deep space missions, a kitchen/cafeteria for astronauts, and even as a “private space yacht” for wealthy vacationers looking for a different kind of trip.

bigelow inflatable space yacht moon b330
Bigelow
Bigelow

If Bigelow can raise the funds for its grand plan, the B330 would begin its journey to the moon on a Vulcan 562 rocket that would first take it to low-Earth orbit. During this phase, the habitat would be expanded, kitted out, and tested for any issues. Once fully operational, the B330 would embark on its journey to low-lunar orbit.

Bigelow said his “lunar depot plan is a strong complement to other plans intended to eventually put people on Mars.” Indeed, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have suggested that billions of dollars could be saved by using the moon as a pit-stop for eventual missions to the red planet.

The last time humans ventured all the way to the moon was in 1972, but in recent years countries around the world have been showing increasing interest in making a return visit. Only this month, Vice President Mike Pence said NASA would put humans on the moon once again, while both China and Japan are aiming for separate missions by 2020 and 2030, respectively. And before then, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk said his SpaceX company is hoping to send two space tourists on a week-long trip around the moon, while Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, CEO of space firm Blue Origin, has floated the idea of a “permanently inhabited lunar settlement.”

Emerging Tech

Inside the Ocean Cleanup’s ambitious plan to rid the ocean of plastic waste

In 2013, Boyan Slat crowdfunded $2.2 million to fund the Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit organization that builds big, floating trash collectors and sets them out to sea, where they’re designed to autonomously gobble up garbage.
Product Review

Still waiting for a new Mac Pro? Corsair’s mini PC has all the power you'll need

With a modern 12-core Intel Core i9-9920X processor, Nvidia’s RTX 2080 Ti graphics, and 32GB of RAM, the Corsair One Pro is designed to woo creatives who demand more power from Apple’s Mac Pro. Like the Mac Pro, the best part of this PC…
Emerging Tech

Happy birthday, Hubble! Telescope celebrates with image of Southern Crab Nebula

In 1990 the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into low Earth orbit, where it has remained for nearly three decades collecting information about deep space. To celebrate its birthday, Hubble imaged the beautiful Southern Crab Nebula.
Emerging Tech

Resupply mission carries 7,600 pounds of scientific equipment to ISS

The Cygnus spacecraft has rendezvoused with the International Space Station as part of a months-long resupply mission. The craft will remain docked until July 23, while the crew take in the 7,600 pounds of research equipment it carried.
Product Review

Now that every speaker has Alexa, don't you want the best? Get the Sonos One

To compete in the smart speaker space, Sonos could have just made a better-sounding Alexa speaker. But the company has a reputation to uphold, and went much further. Our Sonos One Review reveals how Sonos does Alexa better than Amazon.
Emerging Tech

Climeworks wants to clean the atmosphere with a fleet of truck-sized vacuums

Using machines that resemble jet engines, Climeworks wants to fight climate change by extracting CO2 from thin air. The gas can then be sold to carbonated drink and agriculture companies, or sequestered underground.
Emerging Tech

How 3D printing has changed the world of prosthetic limbs forever

When he was 13 years old, Christophe Debard had his leg amputated. Here in 2019, Debard's Print My Leg startup helps others to create 3D-printed prostheses. Welcome to a growing revolution!
Emerging Tech

Geoengineering is risky and unproven, but soon it might be necessary

Geoengineering is a field dedicated to purposely changing the world's climate using technology. Call it 'playing god' if you must; here's why its proponents believe it absolutely must happen.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Earth Day, indoor container farming, robot submarines

Today on Digital Trends Live, we discuss how technology intersects with Earth Day, a new Tim Cook biography, indoor container farming, robot spy submarines, A.I. death metal, and more.
Gaming

Google’s Stadia is the future of gaming, and that’s bad news for our planet

Google’s upcoming Stadia cloud gaming service, and its competitors, are ready to change the way gamers play, but in doing so they may kick off a new wave of data center growth – with unfortunate consequences for the environment.
Emerging Tech

Hawaiian botanists’ drone discovers a plant thought to be lost forever

In what may well be a world first, botanists in Hawaii recently used a drone to find a species of plant that scientists believed was extinct. The plant was located on a sheer cliff face nearly 20 years after its last sighting.
Emerging Tech

Alphabet’s Wing drones now have FAA approval to deliver packages in the U.S.

Alphabet Wing has become the first company to receive Air Carrier Certification from the FAA. This means that it can begin commercial deliveries from local businesses to homes in the U.S.
Emerging Tech

A battery-free pacemaker harvests and stores energy from heartbeats

Researchers in China and the United States have developed a new battery-free pacemaker which gathers its required electricity from the energy of heartbeats. Here's why that's so exciting.
Smart Home

The startup behind the world’s first laundry robot has folded

When the Laundroid was first announced almost three years ago, then shown off at last year's CES, it was met with a fair bit of both intrigue and derision. But now Seven Dreamers, the company behind it, says the company is out of money.