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Sierra Space Tests Expandable Space Station Structure

By Rachel Jewett | January 22, 2024

      The moment the Sierra Space space station test object burst during a recent burst pressure test. Photo: Sierra Space

      Sierra Space recently conducted a full-scale test of its expandable space station structure, the company announced on Monday, along with a video of the test.

      Sierra Space is building the LIFE habitat, which stands for large integrated flexible environment, with the intent it will be a commercial destination in space in the future. LIFE is made of “softgoods,” or woven fabrics that perform like a rigid structure once inflated. It’s designed to be packed into a standard five-meter rocket fairing and then inflate once on orbit. The company’s softgoods technology partner is ILC Dover. 

      The company detailed an ultimate burst pressure (UBP) test conducted in December in Huntsville, Alabama, on Redstone Arsenal, in which the object was inflated until it burst to show how the materials would perform in the harsh environment of space. The full-scale unit in this test reached 77 psi before it burst, which Sierra Space said exceeded NASA’s recommended level by 27%. 

      The company is now targeting a 2024 testing campaign including a series of UBP tests along with early-stage development of the primary Atmospheric Barrier and Micrometeoroid Orbital Debris (MMOD) layers.

      “We are driving the reinvention of the space station that will shape a new era of humanity’s exploration and discovery in Low Earth Orbit and beyond. Sierra Space’s inflatable space station technology offers the absolute largest in-space pressured volume, the best unit economics per on-orbit volume and lowest launch and total operating costs,” said Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice.