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Center Independent Research & Development: JSC IRAD

Inflatable Air Beam Standard Interface Connector

Completed Technology Project

Project Description

While impractical for use, the initial connector demonstrates the idea of a physical connection to an air beam.

The project will develop a system of 3D-printed connectors that can be used as a kit of parts to connect inflatable air beams to form a variety of spacecraft interior outfitting components.  Examples of inflatable IVA structures that can be assembled include crew quarters, waste & hygiene compartment, crew medical restraint system, splints, science payload racks, stowage and other equipment racks, science glove box, recreational devices, other portable devices, work surfaces and other workstations, support braces, other secondary structures, etc.  This inflatable technology can enable such hardware to be packaged in much smaller volumes for delivery in logistics flights or potentially to be integrated within inflatable spacecraft, increasing trade space options.  Crew can also reconfigure spacecraft in-flight, using the ability to 3D-print custom connectors to redesign living spaces or create entirely new interior architectures to respond to mission developments or psychosocial needs.

The Habitabiltiy Design Center has already prototyped scale models of inflatable crew stations and initial prototypes of a standard interface connector.  These connectors have demonstrated basic capability, but are too large relative to the airbeams for pracitcal use.  We have a notional reduced size connector and will use this concept as a starting point, to fabricate and test under operational inflation pressures.  Pending initial success, we will fabricate various connectors to provide several linear and angled connections.  This will form the basic building block for assembly of a variety of crew stations and support hardware.


This research addresses HAT Needs Numbers 12.1.a and 12.1.b and provides steps towards several HAT-specified performance targets:  Bladder Material Selection: The potentially frequent cycles of inflation and deflation experienced by IVA inflatable structures will require bladder material and seal interfaces capable of resisting puncture, tear, flex cracking, or other damage due to folding, handling, or stowage temperatures.  Predictive Modeling of Deployment Dynamics: Inflation or deflation may involve imparted torques and loads that require IVA inflatable structures to be anchored to the spacecraft secondary structure prior to the initiation of inflation or deflation.  Lightweight Structures and Materials Optimization to Realize Structural System Dry Mass Savings (Minimum of 20-25%) and Operational Cost Savings: The inflatable air beam and connector technology offers significant dry mass savings over traditional IVA structural materials.  Structural mass savings for an individual crew quarters is expected to be in excess of 75% over ISS crew quarters.


The intended product deliverable of this activity includes three airbeams of at least 12-inch length and no less than one each of the following: 90-degree connector, 45-degree connector, 180-degree connector, 90-degree five-airbeam connector, 60-degree three-airbeam connector.  Additionally, a test report and CAD models for each connector will constitute deliverables of this activity.


Upon completion of this initial ICA effort, we will be able to demonstrate use of the airbeams in conjunction with existing Logistics to Living Modified Cargo Transfer Bags (MCTBs) to demonstrate deployable partitions as an initial example case.  This demonistration will be helpful in explaining the potential for continued investment to reduce both mass and habitability risks.  We will continue to pursue research funding for further development and will also pursue options to directly engage exploration programs to generate solutions for their specific mission architectures.

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