Space station astronauts are getting their first inflatable room.
The technology demo is meant to pave the way for moon bases and Mars expeditions, as well as orbiting outposts catering to scientists and tourists. Bigelow Aerospace is behind the experiment, which will get a ride to the International Space Station with another private space company, Southern California-based SpaceX.
An unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida Friday afternoon, carrying the module aboard the Dragon capsule. The first stage of the leftover booster landed on an ocean barge -- part of an effort to cut launch costs by employing re-usable boosters.
The soft-sided Bigelow compartment will be attached to the outside of the space station and inflated to the size of a small bedroom. It will stay there for two years, with astronauts occasionally ducking in. Company owner Robert Bigelow is hoping for NASA permission to put experiments inside the chamber, if everything goes well.
The expandable module also has applications on Earth. For example, pop-up living spaces in disasters areas or remote areas. The devices also could be used for storm surge protection and to plug pipelines or subways during floods.
The flight will be the eighth resupply mission for the Dragon capsule, which will carry about 3,800 pounds of experiments and equipment.
The mission also ties a record for most vehicles on the station at one time -- six. That hasn't happened since 2011. Cygnus, two Soyuz capsules and two Progress vehicles station are currently docked to the orbiting laboratory.
The launch will be SpaceX's first shipment for the International Space Station in a year.
A launch accident halted cargo flights last June.