Private space company Sierra Space has blown up its first full-scale inflatable space habitat, dubbed the Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) — and it was all part of the plan.
The balloon-like contraption, which measured just over 20 feet tall, held a third of the volume of the International Space Station once fully inflated. During a recent test, engineers at the Colorado-based company kept pumping it with air, reaching a whopping 77 psi — well above NASA's recommended level of 60.8 psi — before it exploded in spectacular fashion.
A video of the test shows the habitat quite literally bursting at its seams in a fraction of a second, successfully concluding the company's "first stress test of a full-size, inflatable space station structure."
"We are driving the reinvention of the space station that will shape a new era of humanity’s exploration and discovery in Low Earth Orbit and beyond," said Sierra CEO Tom Vice in a statement.
There are potential benefits to inflatable habitats over their hard-shell equivalents. Sierra's LIFE habitat can fit inside a 16.4-foot rocket fairing, but once in orbit, can expand to the size of a three-story apartment building, according to the company.
Sierra claims just three launches could result in the construction of a habitat that has more volume than the entire ISS.
And the LIFE habitat is just the beginning. The company is already working on even bigger habitats that could be inflated to surpass the volume of the ISS in just a single launch.
"The successful full-scale burst test is an undeniable leap toward a new reality of how humans live and operate in space," said Rob Reed, VP at Sierra's tech partner ILC Dover, in the statement, "and we are proud to celebrate this milestone as we work to expand humanity’s capabilities in Low Earth Orbit."
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