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Private aerospace company unveils inflatable space station concept to NASA

A full-size ground prototype of the space station is in the process of coming to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for further testing.
Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation

Future commercial astronaut missions to low-Earth orbit could be calling a modular, inflatable space station home.

Yes, you read that right.

Typically, when you think about things that are inflatable your mind goes to a bounce house or air mattress, not the shelter that keeps you from what lies beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

But, global aerospace and national security company Sierra Nevada Corporation is working to prove otherwise.

NASA recently announced it is seeking industry input to expand the continuous human presence in low-Earth orbit. It plans to play a part in this through the creation of a “marketplace” of commercial destinations led by the private sector.

“NASA estimates the agency’s future needs in low-Earth orbit will require accommodations and training for two crew members continuously and the ability to perform approximately 200 investigations annually to support human research, technology demonstrations, biological and physical science, and the National Lab,” it wrote in a press release.

Enter the Sierra Nevada Corporation’s space station configured of multiple large inflatable LIFE habitats as a contender. According to the company, it’s a three-story, 27-foot large inflatable fabric environment that launches on a rocket.

Once in orbit, the potential home for in-space living and research inflates to its full size. It is unclear if the proposed commercial destination can deflate if needed.

The LIFE habitat is undergoing a NASA soft-goods certification this year and its full-size ground prototype is in the process of being moved to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for further testing.

“NASA has asked private industry to come to the table with alternatives to the International Space Station,” former NASA astronaut and SSG executive vice president of SNC’s Space Systems Janet Kavandi said. “SNC intends to lead in LEO commercialization, building on NASA’s efforts to date and welcoming additional public and private partners worldwide.”

The space agency plans to make its final funding announcement in May with Space Act Agreement awards being made in 2022. The execution of those granted an agreement with NASA will have through 2025 to execute them.

You can watch a mock-up of the company's vision below.

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