Sierra Space Announces Pioneering Full-Scale Burst Test of Expandable Space Station Module

Sierra Space Announces Pioneering Full-Scale Burst Test of Expandable Space Station Module

Sierra Space, a leading pureplay commercial space company building the first end-to-end business and technology platform in space, announced that it is on the brink of a historic moment as the company prepares for its biggest-ever “burst test” of Sierra Space’s inflatable, expandable space station technology.

This groundbreaking endeavor marks a critical step in Sierra Space’s co-development of Orbital Reef with Blue Origin, as the company plans to stress test – for the first time in history – a full-scale version of its LIFE habitat structure and bring the unit to failure under pressure. LIFE is constructed of high-strength “softgoods” materials, which are sewn and woven fabrics – primarily Vectran – that become rigid structures when pressurized on orbit. To date, Sierra Space has conducted five stress tests on subscale test articles; this next one will be 18x larger – nearly 300 m³ of pressurized volume.

Scheduled for December 2023 at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., the Ultimate Burst Pressure (UBP) test is expected to provide Sierra Space and the Orbital Reef program team with critical data in support of NASA’s softgoods certification guidelines. The over-pressurization to failure during the test will not only demonstrate the habitat’s capabilities but also open avenues for structural enhancements.

Sierra Space’s expandable space station module technology is highly scalable and flexible to all existing and planned launch vehicle fairing sizes. The softgoods structures launch packed inside conventional rocket fairings – 5m, 7m, 9m, and beyond – inflating to capacity on orbit. Low-volume launches become high-volume space stations. The module volume will always be the square of its expansion diameter. For example, with a 2.5x expandable configuration, the volume would be 6.25x of a rocket fairing.

“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,” said Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice. “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.”

Key Dimensions:

  • Full-scale LIFE habitat with a height of 20.5 feet (Total height with ground support equipment: 29.5 feet)
  • Diameter: 27 feet
  • Volume: 10,000 cubic feet (283.17 m3)

Current Progress:

  • All components and ground support equipment are in the integration phase at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Upcoming Steps:

  • Softgoods integration into the test stand will be followed by transportation, utilizing the legendary NASA KAMAG transporter tractor, to the historic testing location adjacent to the flame trench of the Saturn 1/1B test stand — where NASA tested rockets for the Apollo program
  • Setup and calibration of sensors and cameras, alongside operational run-throughs, will prepare for the full-scale UBP test in December 2023

Objectives and Lessons Learned:

  • The recent successes of subscale burst tests have emboldened Sierra Space to undertake the full-scale burst test with confidence
  • Sierra Space aims to further refine its technical approach to safety factors and structural integrity through this test
  • Insights from previous tests contribute to technical maturation in support of higher-fidelity manufacturing processes

Core Materials and Blanking Plates:

  • The restraint layer for LIFE is constructed of high-strength “softgoods” materials, which are sewn and woven fabrics – primarily Vectran – that become rigid structures when pressurized
  • Under normal operating pressure, the Vectran softgoods materials become 5x stronger than steel, exceeding station lifetime performance safety factors
  • The restraint layer is complemented by a bladder allowing controlled inflation and pressurization to ultimate burst pressure test failure
  • Two metallic blanking plates are strategically inserted into the restraint layer, designed for seamless integration into the structural shell with minimal performance degradation or knockdown; blanking plates are metal placeholders for integrating windows, airlocks, robotic arms, and other features, into the softgoods layer

Click here to learn more about Sierra Space’s LIFE Habitat.

Publisher: SatNow
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Satellite NameOrbit Date
BeiDou-3 G4Geostationary Orbit (GEO)17 May, 2023
BeiDou-3 G2Geostationary Orbit (GEO)09 Mar, 2020
Compass-IGSO7Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)09 Feb, 2020
BeiDou-3 M19Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M20Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M21Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M22Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 I3Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M23Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019
BeiDou-3 M24Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019


Satellite NameOrbit Date
GSAT0223MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0224MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0219MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0220MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0221MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0222MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0215MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0216MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0217MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0218MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017


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Kosmos 2569--07 Aug, 2023
Kosmos 2564--28 Nov, 2022
Kosmos 2559--10 Oct, 2022
Kosmos 2557--07 Jul, 2022
Kosmos 2547--25 Oct, 2020
Kosmos 2545--16 Mar, 2020
Kosmos 2544--11 Dec, 2019
Kosmos 2534--27 May, 2019
Kosmos 2529--03 Nov, 2018
Kosmos 2527--16 Jun, 2018


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Navstar 82Medium Earth Orbit19 Jan, 2023
Navstar 81Medium Earth Orbit17 Jun, 2021
Navstar 78Medium Earth Orbit22 Aug, 2019
Navstar 77Medium Earth Orbit23 Dec, 2018
Navstar 76Medium Earth Orbit05 Feb, 2016
Navstar 75Medium Earth Orbit31 Oct, 2015
Navstar 74Medium Earth Orbit15 Jul, 2015
Navstar 73Medium Earth Orbit25 Mar, 2015
Navstar 72Medium Earth Orbit29 Oct, 2014
Navstar 71Medium Earth Orbit02 Aug, 2014


Satellite NameOrbit Date
NVS-01Geostationary Orbit (GEO)29 May, 2023
IRNSS-1IInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)12 Apr, 2018
IRNSS-1HSub Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (Sub-GTO)31 Aug, 2017
IRNSS-1GGeostationary Orbit (GEO)28 Apr, 2016
IRNSS-1FGeostationary Orbit (GEO)10 Mar, 2016
IRNSS-1EGeosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)20 Jan, 2016
IRNSS-1DInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)28 Mar, 2015
IRNSS-1CGeostationary Orbit (GEO)16 Oct, 2014
IRNSS-1BInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Apr, 2014
IRNSS-1AInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)01 Jul, 2013