In 2015, a NASA spacecraft named New Horizons performed a flyby study of Pluto and nearby Kuiper belt objects (KBOs). The successful mission greatly increased humanity’s knowledge about the dwarf planet, but what is most interesting about the New Horizons isn’t the data it sent back, but how the mission occurred in the first place.
To cut an interesting story short, it was the courage, drive, and tenacity of one man, Alan Stern, who spent 25 years turning the mission from a dream into a reality. This level of tenacity is what it takes to usher in the Orbital Age.
The race to make space more accessible to everyone by fostering the Orbital Age will be won by practicality. By hitting milestones. It will also involve accelerating the advances needed for private citizens to live and work in low-Earth orbit (LEO). Both will require more than technical skills—they will depend on teamwork and tenacity. Luckily, these are two traits the entire Sierra Space team embraces.
The most recent breakthrough? We achieved the successful completion of an Accelerated Systematic Creep test of the LIFE™ Habitat at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. It may not seem especially smart to inflate expensive space station modules to the point they explode, but that’s just what our team did. You can see so yourself on YouTube.
In fact, testing is where the Sierra Space team’s tenacity really shines. Each test provides a wealth of data and incremental improvements, and demonstrates to the space industry that the LIFE Habitat will be the backbone of the Orbital Age. January’s Accelerated Systematic Creep test occurred just two months after the successful Ultimate Burst Pressure (UBP) test that took place in November 2022.
The purpose of this UBP test was to generate a wealth of data about the LIFE Habitat. Comprised of sewn and woven fabrics capable of becoming rigid when pressurized, we wished to observe how it withstands severe pressure. The scale model’s performance surpassed all expectations. (NASA’s threshold for certification of pressurized modules is withstanding a total pressure of 182.4 PSI before failure.) The LIFE Habitat maintained integrity all the way to an astounding 204 PSI. Such a feat represents improvement from an earlier July test in which LIFE Habitat withstood pressure of 192 PSI.
LaShawn Buckley, LIFE Chief Engineer and Senior Director of Engineering at Sierra Space, explains the importance of this development in these terms. “This latest test is a testament to the commitment that Sierra Space has pledged to establish itself as the leader in this technology.”
The inflatable LIFE Habitat, which is strong enough to fend off orbital debris while also providing thermal protection for occupants, will be central to advancing our goals in the Orbital Age. It will serve as the backbone for the Orbital Reef space station, a joint project between Blue Origin and Sierra Space designed to serve as a mixed-use business park—in space. Of course, LIFE Habitats in LEO aren’t much good without astronauts aboard, so the Sierra Space team has also been working diligently towards achieving constant enhancements to the Dream Chaser® spaceplane as well.
The Dream Chaser team’s focus throughout 2022 was on clearing any final hurdles so the spaceplane can start resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS). Once these vital unmanned missions are underway, we will shift to the next phase of the Dream Chaser’s mission, carrying astronauts and civilians to their temporary home 300 miles above the Earth.
In the interim, the Dream Chaser unit has demonstrated unprecedented tenacity in resolving the many challenges to safely ferrying people and precious cargo into LEO that must be addressed before the spaceplane’s first mission. The “Mission: Tenacity” series on YouTube documents our phenomenal work solving cutting-edge engineering difficulties in a relentless pursuit of such perfection.
Of course, our own tenacity extends beyond solving engineering and hardware feats. There’s also the people puzzle, a core component of Sierra Space’s vision for the Orbital Age. There are actually multiple human considerations. One is Mission Control. These individuals will be ultimately responsible for the Dream Chaser’s flights into LEO.
Already, Mission Control has demonstrated tenacity through constant launch simulations, transforming a complex process into a well-oiled machine. As Flight Dynamics Officer Sadie Holbert explains, “We are in this mission control room, running through sims, practicing operations day in and day out, because we have the last leg of the race—and it is such an incredible responsibility, I feel really honored to be part of that team.”
As Mission Control prepares for ever more launches, Sierra Space also dedicated time in 2022 to preparing the next generation of astronauts for their journey above by announcing the Human Spaceflight Center. This state-of-the-art academy will train both professional explorers who will manage operations in LEO, as well as private sector visitors to live and work in space.
Both the LIFE Habitat and Dream Chaser spaceplane are perfect illustrations of how Sierra Space is preparing the leap into the Orbital Age. Undoubtedly, it will occur through continual achievement of milestones and constant incremental performance improvements. If you are excited by the prospect of opening LEO for all, thereby transforming humanity’s relationship with space, join our team. It’s time to put your skills and talents to work with a company that values tenacity and teamwork in everything we do.