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Inflatables in SPAAACE! ISS 'nauts to enjoy bouncy castle spaceship

Blow-up craft to attach itself to the International Space Station

Astronauts will be able to enjoy the pleasures of an inflatable spaceship from next year, when a blow-up craft will attach itself to the International Space Station.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is expected to be blasted into space aboard SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft at some point in 2015, the firm behind it has announced.

Once it gets into orbit, the inflatable craft will attach itself to Tranquillity, which is a module of the ISS.

NASA has handed Nevada-based Bigelow a whopping $17.8m for the mission, which it hopes will show that low Earth orbit (LEO) is the ideal place for businesses to operate. We expect Starbucks will probably be up there before too long.

"LEO will become a commercial domain," said Mike Gold, Bigelow's director of D.C. operations and business growth.

"Maybe it's difficult to see at this point, but we go back to telecom — there was a time when every communications satellite was owned by the government," he added.

What this means is that he is looking forward to an era when private companies have fully colonised the edge of space.

However, according to Gold, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) is hampering this next period of corporate expansion, because it bans sharing tech with potentially dangerous countries like, say, China.

He would like to work with the People's Republic rather than against it.

"We cannot fight the New Space vs. Old Space battle with so few companies," he said. "The pie is too small. We need to come together as space enthusiasts."

The BEAM craft is a patented "expandable habitat". Once it docks with the ISS, an astronaut will clamber aboard to assess whether the craft is good enough for 'nauts when they need a litte, ahem... space. ®

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