Sierra Space blew up its inflatable space habitat — and that’s a good thing

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Sierra Space blew up its inflatable space habitat to test how much pressure it can handle. Dubbed LIFE, for Large Integrated Flexible Environment, it consists of “softgoods,” or woven fabrics that act like a rigid structure once inflated.

The test focused on LIFE’s pressure shell, which is supposed to keep the habitat intact no matter the pressure it’s experiencing. This layer is made up of Vectran straps (the same material used for the Mars Rovers), which “becomes stronger than steel when inflated on-orbit,” and other high-strength fabrics.

With the support of NASA, it pumped in air beyond the recommended level of 60.8 psi until the whole thing went kaboom. (The explosive ending starts at 5:55 in the video below.)

The aerospace company is testing how durable LIFE can be once subjected to the harsh conditions of space, and it plans on more tests throughout the year that will evaluate other parts of the structure.

If it passes all the tests, LIFE could find itself hitching along on space missions. Sierra Space said LIFE can be easily packed into a rocket and inflated “to the size of a three-story apartment building.” Putting several LIFE modular units together creates a space campus of sorts for living and working that’s bigger than the International Space Station.

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