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Sierra Space Poised for Historic Moment with Largest-Ever Burst Test of Inflatable Space Station Technology

by Anna

Sierra Space, a leading commercial space company, has announced a momentous milestone as it prepares for the most significant “burst test” in its history, focusing on the inflatable, expandable space station technology integral to the company’s vision. This groundbreaking effort is part of Sierra Space’s collaboration with Blue Origin in developing Orbital Reef, signifying a crucial step forward in space habitat construction.

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The upcoming test, scheduled for December 2023 at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is set to be a Ultimate Burst Pressure (UBP) test. This marks the first-ever attempt to stress test a full-scale version of Sierra Space’s LIFE (Large Inflatable Fabric Environment) habitat structure, constructed from high-strength “softgoods” materials, primarily Vectran. These materials transform into rigid structures when pressurized in space. While Sierra Space has conducted five stress tests on smaller-scale models, this UBP test will be 18 times larger, boasting nearly 300 cubic meters of pressurized volume.

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The significance of this test lies in its potential to offer critical data aligning with NASA’s softgoods certification guidelines. By intentionally over-pressurizing the habitat to failure, Sierra Space aims to not only showcase the structural integrity of the LIFE habitat but also unveil opportunities for further enhancements.

Sierra Space’s inflatable space station module technology is designed for scalability and flexibility across various launch vehicle fairing sizes. The softgoods structures are compactly packed inside conventional rocket fairings, expanding to full capacity once in orbit. This adaptability allows for deployment in rocket fairings of 5m, 7m, 9m, and beyond. The module’s volume correlates with the square of its expansion diameter, offering unprecedented scalability in space station construction.

Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice emphasized the economic advantages of their inflatable space station module technology, stating, “Sierra Space’s inflatable space station module technology offers the absolute largest in-space pressured volume, the best unit economics per on-orbit volume, and lowest launch and total operating costs.” Vice further positions Sierra Space as the leader in microgravity research and product development, promising customers an attractive return on their investment.

As Sierra Space approaches this historic burst test, the outcomes are anticipated to not only validate the viability of their inflatable space station technology but also position the company as a pioneer in advancing the future of space habitat construction and exploration.

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