Sierra Space just blew up a space station module to test Orbital Reef

The test is part of a campaign to build a successor to the International Space Station.
Chris Young
LIFE habitat pressure shell design
LIFE habitat pressure shell design

Sierra Space/YouTube 

Sierra Space, the company developing the Orbital Reef "space business park" alongside Jeff Bezos' space company Blue Origin, just blew up a prototype space station module.

The deliberate explosion was the fourth of four explosions the company performed as part of a test campaign aimed at verifying the inflatable habitat for its International Space Station (ISS) successor. You can watch the dramatic footage in the video below.

An explosive space station module test

Colorado-based Sierra Space announced on Wednesday that it had blown up the last of its prototype modules designated for its explosive test campaign.

The explosive test took place in February with Sierra Space stating in a press statement that it deliberately blew up a small-scale prototype of Sierra Space's Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) module. Prior to the explosion, the LIFE module prototype was subjected to high pressures well above those it would experience in space.

According to Sierra Space, the latest test shows its full-scale module will likely be able to withstand pressurization in space for more than 60 years. That means it will have a great deal of redundancy, as the Orbital Reed space station is expected to have a roughly 15-year lifespan.

"We are obviously simulating pressures well in excess of the norm," Shawn Buckley, Sierra Space chief engineer for LIFE, explained in the statement. "Test after extreme test, we continue to exceed our program requirements."

Looking beyond the International Space Station

Back in 2021, NASA announced three contracts totaling $415 million for private space firms to develop US-operated successors to the ISS. Aside from Orbital Reef, those funds have also gone towards space station projects led by Northrop Grumman and Nanoracks.

The space agency initially made the call for new space stations based on the fact that the ISS is operating on ageing technology. However, the need for new space stations has likely been accelerated by Russia's war in Ukraine, and the ensuing diplomatic fallout, which has extended to space.

Sierra Space announced that it will begin testing full-scale LIFE habitat prototypes later this year. Sierra Space and Blue Origin have previously stated that they aim to launch their space station to orbit by around 2027. Sierra Space aims to eventually carry astronauts to the Orbital Reef station using its in-development Dream Chaser spacecraft.

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