Sep 21, 2023
Sierra Space, a leading, pureplay commercial space company building the first end-to-end business and technology platform in space, today announced it completed a fifth, sub-scale test of their revolutionary LIFE™ habitat (Large Integrated Flexible Environment). ILC Dover is the exclusive softgoods technology partner on the Sierra Space platform.
This latest successful milestone and the first one in the testing campaign to include a metallic window sub-structure – or blanking plate – now propels Sierra Space into full-scale testing of LIFE by the end of this year. The milestone cements the company’s position as the industry leader in commercial space station development for use in low-Earth orbit (LEO) and deep space.
“Sierra Space is putting affordable in-space infrastructure within reach so every boardroom can now look to space for their next breakthrough products,” said Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice. “Our revolutionary space station technology, combined with our highly reusable Dream Chaser spaceplane, significantly decreases the cost of in-space infrastructure and Is ushering in the commercialization of Low Earth Orbit.”
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On Aug. 17, Sierra Space, in collaboration with ILC Dover and NASA subject-matter experts, conducted an Ultimate Burst Pressure (UBP) test on a one-third-scale version of the inflatable habitat. This test article included a blanking plate – a metallic structure inserted into the softgoods shell to emulate a future design component, such as a window, robotic arm or antenna attachment point. For this burst test, a steel blanking plate was used as a stand-in for a future window.
Sierra Space LIFE Habitat Space Station Burt Test
This recent UBP test of the sub-scale LIFE with a blanking plate surpassed all other previous test article maximum burst pressures. The results of this test provide a 33% margin over the certification standard for full-scale LIFE testing, and nearly a 20% improvement over the previous design, aligning with Sierra Space’s two previous sub-scale UBP tests conducted in July and November 2022. Sierra Space is the only active commercial space company to test both UBP (3) and Creep (2) on an inflatable softgoods architecture at sub or full scale and now with a blanking plate.
“Inclusion of the blanking plate hard structure was a game-changer because this was the first time that we infused metallics into our softgoods pressure shell technology prior to conducting a UBP test,” said Sr. Director Engineering and Product Evolution Director for Sierra Space Destinations, Shawn Buckley. “With this added component, once again, we successfully demonstrated that LIFE’s current architecture at one-third scale meets the minimum 4x safety factor required for softgoods inflatables structures. This is a phenomenal achievement and provides the necessary engineering foundation that allows us to move into the next phase of the LIFE product line development – full-scale testing of LIFE.”
Once fully developed, the LIFE habitat will house a minimum of two windows, and they are a critical feature in the development of the LIFE habitat. They help crew members deal with any feelings of living in a confined space. More importantly, windows provide the crew an opportunity to witness the beauty of planet Earth in a way that can forever change them as people.
“As pioneers in softgoods solutions, such as inflatable habitats, we are dedicated to advancing the next era of human spaceflight and sustaining life in low-Earth orbit,” said Robert Reed, President, Space and Engineered Solutions at ILC Dover. “The milestone of this recent burst test underscores our commitment to safeguarding explorers as they push the boundaries and embark on transformative journeys beyond our planet. We are proud to have contributed to this crucial endeavor and further showcase the reliability of our inflatable habitat.”
This recent UBP test was performed with support from NASA via a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement in which Marshall Space Flight Center provides services to Sierra Space in support of its exploration and commercial low-Earth orbit (LEO) technology development and risk reduction activities. The test occurred in Huntsville, Ala., on Redstone Arsenal in the flame trench of the historic Saturn 1/1B test stand.
Sierra Space’s full-scale LIFE habitat product line is a key component of the company’s in-space destinations technology portfolio. The inflatable module is a three-story commercial habitation, science and bio pharma platform designed to allow humans to live and work comfortably in LEO and beyond. It is constructed of high strength, “softgoods” materials (sewn and woven fabrics, primarily Vectran) that become rigid structures when pressurized.