In the opening scenes of Stanley Kubrick’s iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey, we witness a prominent scientist arriving at a hotel in space. Serving as a hub between Earth and the Moon or even more distant space destinations, Kubrick’s depiction of a casually habitable beyond-Earth domain has since dominated imaginings of space stations even more than real-life examples like the International Space Station (ISS).
Still today, we long for the elegance and luxury of being spirited away into the cosmos, alighting into a safe, spacious habitat with plenty of room for inquiry, business, discussion, or even low-gravity leisure. With the Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE™), Sierra Space is taking first steps toward realizing the type of accessible, livable space environment so many of us have long fantasized.
Right now, conventional rockets remain the best technology for escaping Earth’s gravity and getting well into space. This is how Sierra Space’s spaceplane, the Dream Chaser® , will soon ferry intrepid commercial passengers. Journeying to the first Sierra Space LIFE habitats will be just as futuristic—and more importantly, streamlined—as even the most starry-eyed civilian might imagine.
Think of the Dream Chaser as an updated, high-tech version of the NASA Space Shuttle. (NASA astronauts won’t be the only beyond-Earth explorers to be ferried to LIFE habitats via the Dream Chaser, but Sierra Space is scheduled to begin using its space plane to carry payloads for the American space agency starting in 2023)
Exiting the Dream Chaser, visitors to the LIFE habitat will encounter a spacious, three-story environment complete with a galley, toilet, living quarters, and plenty of room for scientific and industrial activities. Fully modular and designed to permit expansion, the LIFE habitat can exist alone or connected into a multi-module exoplanetary area to host a range of activities, including agricultural production for food and science.
But Earth’s orbit isn’t the only locale Sierra Space intends to take its LIFE habitat. This uniquely versatile inflatable environment is just as deployable on terrestrial planetoids like the Moon, Mars, or even asteroids. Taking up little room during deployment by a conventional rocket, the Sierra Space LIFE habitat can expand rapidly once it has reached its intended location, allowing the crew to assemble the interior spaces in whichever layout best fits their parameters and mission objectives.
The LIFE habitat lives up to its name by providing an ideal dwelling place for beyond-Earth exploration missions. Nearer to home, the low-Earth orbit environment offers optimal conditions for certain industries, like 3D printing, which have the potential to negatively impact the ecology on Earth’s surface. Pharmaceuticals can also be synthesized in brand-new ways when the manufacturing process is liberated from Earth’s gravity, potentially saving lives with breakthrough medications.
The first LIFE habitat will be ready for voyaging into Earth’s orbit within the next few years. Then, it’s only a matter of time until subsequent habitats launch, opening up novel opportunities to connect multiple LIFE modules into larger space stations to support living and working in space. The Dream Chaser’s ability to transport critical supplies and personnel constitute novel ways Sierra Space is contributing to Orbital Reef, a joint venture with Blue Origin and other space pioneers. Serving as a hub of civilian commercial activity beyond Earth’s gravity, visitors to Orbital Reef will one day see LIFE habitats sent off to other strategic locations within the solar system.
Beginning with initiatives like the LIFE habitat, Sierra Space is eager to prove space can be accessible to those with the drive to innovate and the dedication to match. And while sci-fi visions of majestic space elevators may not be realizable quite yet, the door to the possible is opening ever more daily. For now, like its Dream Chaser spaceplane, Sierra Space’s LIFE habitat will be built on Earth and sent into orbit aboard rockets.
What the LIFE habitat represents, however, is a rekindling of the inspiring vision that led humanity into space in the first place. Who can say what liberating advances will come from this endeavor and all its intended offshoots? Likewise, what out-of-this-world thoughts will take form as we unshackle ourselves from the limits of Earth’s gravity? Since ancient times, great thinkers have yearned to ascend to the heavens, free to express mankind’s fullest desires. When it comes to LIFE habitat, Sierra Space is making the impossible possible for all those dreamers back on Earth.