Russian prototype of the inflatable module takes shape

From 2013 to 2015, Russian industry worked on the prototype of an inflatable space module scaled down three times from the planned flight-worthy vehicle. With a total volume of 16 cubic meters, the model was used for various tests before the full-scale inflatable module could be built.

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Basic design of the expandable module mockup: 1) A multi-layer expandable skin (segments are not shown); 2) Pressurized hatch; 3) Internal hard structure. Credit: RKK Energia



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RKK Energia's annual report for 2013 confirmed that the work on the module had continued, in particular, the company had developed a manufacturing process, which would allow to produce inflatable space structures of different sizes.

The construction of a scaled prototype of the module was now scheduled for 2014. (657) In reality, the construction of the scale module was completed in 2015. (784)

The work on scale models gave engineers first-hand experience in the construction of expandable structures, in testing repairs of a damaged flexible structure and in trying various methods of folding, packing and deployment of expandable structures.

In June 2016, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin visited RKK Energia's main campus in Podlipki and inspected the expandable prototype among other hardware. The visit came on the heels of the successful deployment of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, BEAM, on the US segment of the International Space Station, ISS.

TsNIIMash involvement

Peculiarly, while RKK Energia was looking for money for its expandable module during 2014, Roskosmos awarded a contract to its main research and certification center TsNIIMash to develop a technical proposal for the experimental transformable module, ETOM, as well as a one-to-three scaled prototype of the vehicle. It is unclear, whether the project was competing or complementing the work at RKK Energia.

Technical requirements for the ETOM module listed following specifications:

Pressurized volume No less than 100 cubic meters
Diameter at liftoff 3.75 meters
Diameter in deployed position 7.1 meters
Length at liftoff 6.6 meters*
Liftoff mass no more than 4.75 tons

*(that specification was to be reviewed further into the project)

On October 15, 2015, the Scientific and Technical Council at the TsNIIMash research institute reviewed the technical proposal for the ETOM, along with two other work milestones conducted within the advanced projects package known as Perspektiva ("prospect").


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The article and photography by Anatoly Zak; Last update: August 10, 2016

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: August 10, 2016

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A one-to-three prototype of the inflatable module, known as ETOM, built at TsNIIMash in 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Novosti Kosmonavtiki


A scaled prototype of the Russian inflatable module built at RKK Energia around 2015. Credit: RKK Energia

Deputy Prime-Minister Dmitry Rogozin inspects a scaled prototype of the inflatable module at RKK Energia on June 14, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia


Scaled prototype of the expandable structure (left) next to the descent modules of the Soyuz (center) and PTK NP spacecraft. Credit: RKK Energia