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Sierra Space habitation unit hits milestones in Marshall testing

HUNTSVILLE – A space habitation module recently passed a key stress test, Sierra Space announced.

The company said its Large Integrated Flexible Habitat Environment (LIFE) completed its second sub-scale Ultimate Burst Pressure test Nov. 15. The test is a part of NASA’s NextSTEP project for space habitation systems.

“The LIFE habitat module is essential technology for enabling humans to safely and comfortably begin to develop new civilizations in space,” said Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice. “This project will service many different opportunities for the new space economy, and the results of this most recent test and milestone are testament to the progress our team is making to enable the next chapter in space commercialization.

“We look forward to continue building this key element in our technology portfolio and paving the way for the development of advanced inflatable habitat systems and architectures.”

The test was managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center and, which due to its explosive nature, was in the flame trench of the historic Saturn rocket test stand.

This was the second UBP test – the first was in July – by Sierra Space, the only active commercial space company to meet multiple successful UBP trials.

Watch the Ultimate Burst Pressure Test at Redstone Arsenal:

Sierra Space was created by the Sierra Nevada Corp.to commercialize space and is building the first end-to-end business and technology platform in space,

The inflatable LIFE module, in development at the Kennedy Space Center, is a three-story commercial habitation and science platform designed for low-Earth orbit that will allow humans to live and work comfortably in space.

The sub-scale tests in July and November achieved a maximum burst pressure rate of 192 and 204 psi, respectively – exceeding the safety requirement of 182.4 psi, the company said. The results show Sierra Space can meet the 4x safety factor required for softgoods inflatables within its current architecture at one-third scale.

LIFE is constructed of high strength “softgoods” materials, which are sewn and woven fabrics – primarily Vectran – that becomes rigid structures when pressurized.

“In working with our partners ILC Dover and NASA, Sierra Space is quickly moving closer to softgoods certification,” Shawn Buckley, LIFE chief engineer and senior director of Engineering at Sierra Space, said. “This second successful UBP test proves we can demonstrate design, manufacturing and assembly repeatability, all of which are keys areas for certification.”

Full-scale LIFE UBP tests will begin in 2023.

Among its missions, LIFE will serve as a habitation and a payload element for the Orbital Reef commercial space station, a collaboration between Sierra Space and Blue Origin.

Sierra Space is enabling the future of space transportation with Dream Chaser, the world’s only winged commercial spaceplane. Under construction at its Colorado headquarters and expected to launch in 2023 on the first of a series of NASA missions to the International Space Station, Dream Chaser can carry cargo and crew to on-orbit destinations, returning to land on compatible commercial airport runways worldwide – including Huntsville International Airport.

Sierra Space said Dream Chaser and LIFE are central components to Orbital Reef, which is expected to be operational by the end of the decade.

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