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These Inflatable Space Habitats Are Awesome, But Will They Really Work?
Sierra Space is building new space habitats and a new commercial international space station, or at least that’s the plan, but it still has a long way to go before any of its ambitious goals become reality. The company was created this year by the global aerospace and national security leader Sierra Nevada Corporation SNC. SNC has been working with NASA for more than a decade.
Sierra Space is famous for its new spacecraft, the Dream Chaser, known as the “New Challenger” for its design. Sierra Space has already participated in several key NASA programs, including plant systems to feed humans in space, conceptualizing nuclear-powered spacecraft that radically change space exploration, and critical gear motors components that control the robotic arm and coring drill responsible for collecting samples in the Mars Perseverance Rover.
Sierra Space announced new agreements with Space Tango and Japan’s Kanematsu Corporation to help bring its space habitats to life. Both agreements are designed to attract investment and boost the development of their Sierra Space Station and their LIFE modules. NASA says that Sierra Space’s role in the new era of space exploration is critical as the sector “transitions from public to private participation.”
When NASA announced the International Space Station would not be around forever, Sierra Space responded that they had the solution and had been working on it for years, the Sierra Space Station. The Sierra Space Station will be assembled by combining LIFE modules. The habitat consists of three floors “outfitted with everything a crew of astronauts would need to live in space and perform science missions,” LIFE habitats include science labs, robotics work stations, medical and sickbay, sleep and hygiene quarters, galley, exercise equipment, innovative gardens, and plant growth systems and ample storage space.
Will It Work? The Long Road Ahead
he company’s LIFE modules stand out from other space habitats for their unique inflatable structures. Sierra Space assures that its inflatable structures are developed and tested to meet NASA micrometeoroid impact requirements. Sierra Space adds that their inflatable outside layer is known as “the restrain layer” is made out of a Vectran fabric weave, and can not only withstand internal pressures necessary to sustain life but is “stronger than steel.” The fabric and the internal outfitting are also designed to withstand radiation above the Karman line.
For the Sierra station to become reality a long string of events has to take place. First, the company needs a fully operational spacecraft, secure launch, and go from testing to development of the space habitat. Sierra Space has already built a full-scale prototype here on Earth of a LIFE module. They are now testing it to determine the best approach for construction, inflating, and outfitting the module. While the company has the technology, resources, funding, experience, and connections, they still have a long road ahead to make their vision of the future of space a reality.
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