A burgeoning space industry is just one of the ingredients we need to get ourselves truly off-planets. Space launch has given us worldwide communication and is on the edge of providing reliable commercial travel. But what about living in space? While the International Space Station has been the gold standard of living off Earth, it isn’t a long-term solution. It is totally reliant on regular resupply missions, and the longest anyone has gone is a mere 340 days. As usual, the limitation is in the human.
As a species, we are moving towards a watershed moment in technology. From highly efficient rocket engines to potentially crossing the lightspeed barrier, our ability to go places isn’t the limiting factor. Unfortunately, the nature of travel means a lot of time outside a gravity well. Microgravity is hard on the body. From issues with bone density to muscle atrophy, the human body evolved in gravity and thrives there. So how do we solve the problem of life in space, when the body fails? We bring a little slice of Earth with us.
Living In Space With a Twist
To achieve long-term living in space, spin gravity stations are not a new concept. The idea of using centripetal motion to simulate the acceleration of gravity has been a mainstay of science fiction since the mid-twentieth century. The question has always been about getting a large enough, and strong enough, structure into orbit.
Now, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Washington think they can get a kilometer-scale space station into a single space launch. This is the natural next evolution of the inflatable space station concept. Inflatable modules have been pioneered by Bigelow Aerospace over the last 20 years. Bigelow has unfortunately ceased operations indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several other market players are taking the concept of inflatable modules and building. Space Entertainment Enterprise is partnering with Axiom Space to add an inflatable module to the international space station. But the future takes things a step further.
Not Just A Balloon
But the researchers want to take expandable modules a step further, with a complicated structure called handed shearing auxetics. Essentially, these structures allow a very small volume to hold a very large future volume, expanding a series of connected rigid shapes using torque and electricity. No high-pressure air is required, and once expanded, these cylinders would have the strength to hold up under spin.
The Future Of Living In Space
The future of living in space depends on our ability to create an environment that the human body can not just survive, but thrive in. From inflatable space station modules to auxetics, companies and researchers are partnering to bring us into a bright future.