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  • Satellite Evolution

Sierra Space advances future of space habitation in low-Earth orbit and deep space with LIFE™ test

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

Sierra Space continues to make critical strides in the development of its softgoods inflatable technology — LIFE™ habitat (Large Integrated Flexible Environment) – solidifying its lead in the industry.

The company’s LIFE testing campaign, a combined effort with NASA test engineers, passed another milestone on the path to building a full-scale habitat product line with various architectures to enable human missions to low-Earth orbit, the moon and deep space. This milestone affirms Sierra Space’s position as the industry leader in inflatable space habitats and the only active commercial company to build human-rated structures.

The company also announced that it signed a new Space Act Agreement for an expanded partnership with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), which will further accelerate LIFE development.

Another successful test

In February, Sierra Space performed a month-long Accelerated Systematic Creep (ASC) test on LIFE – the first milestone in its 2023 testing campaign. Engineers loaded a one-third-scale version of the inflatable habitat with a sustained amount of pressure over an extended period until it failed. Per NASA’s recommended guidelines for inflatable softgoods certification, the test reached its goal of generating an additional data point – pressure and time to burst – which can be used to estimate the life of the primary pressure shell structure.

“Our testing campaign has demonstrated that our LIFE habitat pressure shell design has a predicted life of far greater than 60 years – or 525,600 hours – based on Sierra Space’s 15-year on-orbit life requirement and the applied 4x safety factor,” said Sierra Space Chief Engineer for LIFE, Shawn Buckley. “We are obviously simulating pressures well in excess of the norm. Test after (extreme) test, we continue to exceed our program requirements, validating that LIFE’s design, manufacturing, and assembly methods are consistent and repeatable.”

The next series of one-third-scale LIFE certification tests will focus on inserting hard structures into the pressure shell and correlating the results to previous tests. Sierra Space anticipates moving toward full-scale LIFE habitat tests later this year.

Expanded presence in Huntsville, Ala.

Thanks to a recently signed Space Act Agreement with NASA, Sierra Space will expand its collaborative environment with Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), in Huntsville, Ala., to continue critical work on LIFE. The agreement supports ongoing design and development of LIFE test articles; a full-scale engineering mockup – the size of a three-story apartment building – will move to MSFC from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Alabama is the seventh location across the nation where Sierra Space operates facilities, joining Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.

Sierra Space, NASA and ILC Dover subject matter experts performed the recent ASC test inside a specially built, climate-controlled building at MSFC, adjacent to the flame trench of the Saturn 1/1B test stand — where NASA tested rockets for the Apollo program. This location is optimum for softgoods inflatable destructive testing in both performance and observation. ILC Dover is Sierra Space’s softgoods provider.

“NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center has a rich history in leading highly-complex testing for innovative systems and technologies,” said Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice. “Under this new Space Act Agreement, we’re expanding our collaboration activities with Marshall, where we will be able to tap into that wealth of expertise, talent and facility capabilities at a much deeper level.”

Sierra Space’s LIFE 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 low-Earth orbit and beyond. LIFE will serve as both the habitation and payload element for the Orbital Reef commercial space station, a collaboration between Sierra Space and Blue Origin.


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