Private space company Bigelow Aerospace achieved a real milestone today with the succesful orbital launch of its research satellite Genesis I. It was launched in Russia on a converted ballistic missile. The Genesis is a scaled-down research prototype of an inflatable "hab" structure for use in a future commercial space station. Bigelow hopes to launch such a space station by 2015, but a lot of research on inflatables needs to be done first.
This was originally a NASA concept that Bigelow took over. If "inflatable" suggests floating around inside a thin mylar balloon, think again. It would really be a thick multi-layer structure that would inflate by a factor of roughly two, giving a very roomy space in space. There are some good pictures here and and a report on a visit to Bigelow here (not much on the Bigelow site, oddly enough). There's also a good article (from 2004) at the Space Review on "inflatable POOF's" (privately owned orbital facilities!) that discusses the origins of the idea and Bigelow's plans. I want to go!