Inflatable Technologies for Interstellar Missions: Bounce House to the Stars

Author: Jamey Jacob, PhD, Professor, Oklahoma State University

Abstract Background: While inflatable designs have been developed and tested since the earliest days of manned space flight, only recently have they come into their own with the deployment of man-rated modules in space. The advantages are obvious, with both potential weight and volume savings allowing optimization for either volume or mass limited launch vehicles.

Abstract Objectives:
This work covers aspects of where the technology lies right now and extrapolates to potential future missions focused on human interstellar flight. Inflatable technologies have the potential for many elements of an interstellar spacecraft, including habitats, airlocks, elemental structures such as booms and trusses, and other components for generational spaceflight support, such as gardens and reservoirs, as well as heat shields and debris deflectors.

Abstract Methods:
Material requirements include both yield strength and longevity, particularly in the harsh interstellar environment. In addition to traditional inflatable designs, we will examine novel design possibilities. One such approach is to use airbeam technology that explore different methods of joining inflatable beams to form a continuous cellular structure that creates arched arrangements or a series of connected rings to form cylinders, allowing a wide array of designs to be explored and developed.

Abstract Results: Key advantages of this approach lie in the separation of structural support and internal habitable conditions. The structure can maintain strength and stiffness independent of pressure in the habitable volume. Thus, the structure does not rely on maintaining internal pressure and can be used for other applications, such as temporary shelters for shielding from solar storms, micrometeorites or for equipment storage not requiring atmospheric conditions. Any potential leaks can be isolated in the affected elements of the structure without compromising habitat pressure or structural integrity. Additional advantages exist in the ability to fill the beams fully or partially with various materials for improved strength or radiation protection. For example, water or other radiation absorbing material can be used to fill beams, and a rigid structure can be created with relative ease by filling the beams with rigidizing material.

Abstract Conclusions: The authors will present prospects for use in future missions and concepts for ships using inflatable systems, both as components and integral elements.