Sierra Space has tested the shell of its inflatable space station beyond bursting point during a key test.
The pressure shell for the California, USA-based company’s LIFE (Large Integrated Flexible Environment) habitat is made of expandable woven fabrics that perform like a rigid structure once inflated.
During the Ultimate Burst Pressure (UBP) test, the teams inflate the test article until it fails, to help determine how strong its materials would be in space.
The full-scale unit in the test reaches 77 psi before bursting, exceeding by 27% NASA’s recommended level of 60.8 psi.
Tom Vice CEO of Sierra Space said, “Our 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.
“Having the best unit economics positions Sierra Space as the category leader in microgravity research and product development, providing customers with the most attractive return on their investment.”
The LIFE is packed inside a standard 5m (16ft) rocket fairing and inflates to the size of a three-story apartment building on orbit.
According to Sierra Space it would take just three launches to create a living and working environment in space that is larger, volume-wise than the entire International Space Station (ISS) using the LIFE.
The company also plans to develop larger designs such as a 1400 cubic-meter version, packaged inside a 7m (23ft) rocket fairing which would surpass the size of the ISS in a single launch.
Engineers at Sierra Space plan are continuing to run more UBP tests this year in parallel with developing the primary Atmospheric Barrier and Micrometeoroid Orbital Debris layers for the habitat.