COLORADO SPRINGS — Sierra Space and ILC Dover announced April 18 they will cooperate on the development of inflatable space station modules and spacesuits.
Under the partnership, ILC Dover will be the exclusive partner in providing soft goods for Sierra Space’s Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) modules it is developing for commercial space stations. Sierra Space also plans to offer versions of LIFE modules for lunar and Mars applications.
Tom Vice, chief executive of Sierra Space, said in an interview during the 38th Space Symposium that the company is working on a series of progressively larger LIFE modules, including versions that will have more habitable volume than the entire International Space Station.
The company is also developed ways to integrate windows into inflatable habitats, and will conduct tests of an engineering model of a module with windows in the summer. “We didn’t want to go to space and be inside of the habitat but not able to see the Earth,” he said.
The discussion with ILC Dover on supporting work on LIFE led to cooperation about spacesuit development. “We got into really deep technical conversations about their heritage in spacesuits,” Vice said, which led to expanding their partnership to include spacesuits. “We want to work together to create the world’s best suit.”
The companies have not disclosed design details about their planned suits, which include versions for use both inside spacecraft and for spacewalks. Vice said that the companies want to address some of the problems with earlier suit designs. “If you talk to astronauts, there are significant areas of discomfort and significant areas of distraction because of that,” he explained.
That suit concept, he said, would allow it to be seamlessly integrated with the crewed version of Dream Chaser the company is developing. “When you’re integrated into Dream Chaser, you automatically connect to the systems on board,” he said. “It’s not about just designing another suit but instead to think about the problem differently.”
Sierra Space is currently working on two cargo Dream Chasers, the first of which will ship in July to NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Ohio for thermal vacuum, acoustics and vibration testing, then go to the Kennedy Space Center in November for launch on a Vulcan Centaur.
The second-generation Dream Chasers will follow, with both cargo and crew versions. They will support the company’s commercial space station development, working with Blue Origin and others on the Orbital Reef station.
Vice said he is seeing the strongest demand for the commercial space stations from the biotechnology sector. “We see our first space station being almost fully dedicated to biotech,” citing $280 billion spent annually on pharmaceutical research and development. “It will be dedicated to research and formulation of new drugs, and we see tremendous pent-up demand for it.”
He added that the company anticipated hosting tourism on its stations, but did not see it as a priority. “We’ll be in that business, but we really think space is for everyone,” he said. “It’s not a billionaire playground. It is a place to benefit millions of people, and it really drives our behavior.”