As reported by Popular Mechanics: Bigelow's inflatable space habitat has been under development for a few years, but now it seems that the prototype for the someday space hotel is ready to fly. On April 8, SpaceX will launch a resupply mission to the International Space Station, taking the inflatable habitat aboard for a round of testing in orbit.
Bigelow has sent up a few uncrewed prototypes before, and has made no secret of its ambitions to get larger and larger space stations in orbit. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, is a good step toward this. The 565 cubic-foot habitat will stay on the ISS for two years to further test if it has the right stuff to make viable for a longterm stay in space.
While inflatable habitats may seem like a strange idea, the idea is nearly as old as the space race, albeit never fully implemented. The first such idea, the TransHab, would have gone up early in the 21st century had it not been cancelled by Congress. However, Bigelow picked up that patent and developed it into their line of habitats.
At just eight feet in diameter, inflatable modules like this are much easier to get into space than other components of the ISS that have to be launched one by one and constructed in orbit. If the BEAM module is successful, there could be a whole lot more in like it in orbit this coming decade.