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Sierra Space Conducts 5th LIFE Module Burst Test

Sierra Space has conducted another successful test of its inflatable habitat technology, further development of advanced space habitation systems.

  • Test Completed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
  • Test Was Conducted in August, Only Confirmed To Media On September 20th
  • LIFE Module Survived To 33% Over Pressure
  • Sierra Space Working Towards Flight Ready Hardware in 2025/26
Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Fri Sep 22 2023Written by Zac Aubert

Sierra Space has conducted another successful test of its inflatable habitat technology, further development of advanced space habitation systems. The test showcased the remarkable resilience of the Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) inflatable module, even when equipped with a novel metallic structure designed to mimic a window.

This was the fifth test in a series of evaluations for subscale versions of the LIFE inflatable module. The critical burst test, conducted in collaboration with ILC Dover at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in August, involved increasing the internal pressure of the module until it ultimately burst.

What set this test apart from its predecessors was the inclusion of a metallic structure referred to as a blanking plate, strategically attached to the exterior of the module. The plate was intended to simulate a window, allowing engineers to assess how such an addition might impact the module's structural integrity.

"It was natural in our progression of testing, but the only true way in soft goods, and soft goods structures, to really verify that data is to take it through an ultimate burst test." - Shawn Buckley, Sierra Space Senior Director of Engineering

Despite the added complexity of the metallic plate, the module impressively burst at 20% higher pressure than its previous test without the plate. This remarkable achievement demonstrates Sierra Space's commitment to ensuring the LIFE module's robustness.

The module now boasts a substantial 33% margin over the certification standard required for the full-scale LIFE module, showcasing the technology's reliability even under challenging conditions.

The next phase of testing will involve evaluating a full-scale prototype of the LIFE module, marking a pivotal step in Sierra Space's comprehensive testing plan. The ongoing testing regimen comprises multiple "gates" focusing on different aspects of the LIFE module's design, including minimizing potential leaks and assessing its resilience against micrometeoroid and orbital debris impacts.

"As we progress over the next 24 months, we'll move through a series of gates and we'll start developing our hardware that supports what we just did in this test" - Shawn Buckley, Sierra Space Senior Director of Engineering

Sierra Space is working towards having flight-ready hardware within the next 24 to 36 months.

The burst test took place in partnership with NASA at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. The test took place in the flame trench at the center's historic test stand, once used for Saturn 1 and 1B rocket launches. Beyond its practical advantages for containing debris from the burst test, Sierra Space selected the site as an added value of inspiration derived from the site. "We chose it for pure inspiration...If you drive in front of that and then think about the history that has happened in that flame trench, I will tell you I was inspired."

The LIFE module is a pivotal component of Sierra Space's partnership with Blue Origin and other companies in the development of the Orbital Reef commercial space station.

Additionally, Sierra Space has proposed deploying a LIFE module as a standalone pathfinder for commercial research, a venture that could precede the construction of the Orbital Reef.

Sierra Space's latest test not only signifies another remarkable advancement in inflatable habitat technology but also underscores the company's unwavering commitment to shaping the future of space habitation. W

ith each successful test, Sierra Space inches closer to realizing its ambitious goals in commercial space exploration.