Development and Testing of an Inflatable Airlock Module for Gateway Station and Beyond



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49th International Conference on Environmental Systems


Inflatable modules have been featured in many recent plans for future space habitats, but to date the flight experience with inflatable structures is limited. With the support of the NASA Exploration Habitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge, the University of Maryland is developing and testing a full-scale inflatable airlock capable of safe and reliable operation in a 1-g environment, with the intent of delivering it to NASA JSC to be used in support of Gateway development operations. The airlock is designed to accommodate two crew in microgravity operations, with an internal diameter of 1.5m and a length of 2m. Square hatches with a clear passage width of 1m are installed in rigid bulkheads at each end. The structure is deployed by vent pressure air, held below 0.5 psi to ensure safety of humans in the area. The airlock also contains an internal structure which deploys with the pressure envelope and latches into place, maintaining the deployed shape even when the interior is depressurized, and allowing reliable crew mobility on the distal bulkhead. The airlock is outfitted with power, communications, lighting, air ventilation, and simulated suit support interfaces for simulation purposes. The airlock will be tested in both 1g and neutral buoyancy at the University of Maryland prior to delivery. Since NASA intended to only use the inflatable airlock module in a horizontal orientation in a 1g environment, a matching piece of ground support equipment will also be delivered which will allow crew operations internal to the airlock without placing a load on the inflatable envelope or deployed structure. The paper covers design history including trade studies, developmental testing, and operational testing in 1g, neutral buoyancy, and simulated lunar and Mars gravity. The airlock is planned for delivery to JSC in June, 2019.


David Akin, University of Maryland (UMD), USA
ICES502: Space Architecture
The 49th International Conference on Environmental Systems was held in Boston, Massachusetts, USA on 07 July 2019 through 11 July 2019.


Inflatable structures, Airlocks, Gateway Station, Deployable structures, Neutral buoyancy testing, Space simulation