China is interested in participating in a proposed US private space enterprise involving inflatable structures in orbit. Bigelow Aerospace, under the US Space Act, is allowed to use technology from NASA's once-proposed TransHab inflatable module originally for the Freedom space station, now the International Space Station (ISS).

China Great Wall Industry representatives have visited Bigelow's plant in Nevada to see scale-model inflatables that could be launched on privately funded orbital flight tests by 2006-7. A future concept is the crewed commercial Nautilus module, which could be larger than any module on the ISS. China could provide launches on Long March boosters and could even use inflatables in its manned space programme.

Nautilus could also be useful for long-term research for NASA Moon and Mars habitats. Bigelow is planning a series of flights of small prototype inflatable modules on Kosmotras Dnepr booster missions.

Source: Flight International