February 22, 2021
Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) LIFE™ habitat has a new addition. If you check out pictures below, it kind of looks like our Large Inflatable Fabric Environment habitat just got a Mohawk! But, it’s not a fashion statement. The meteorite shield was recently added to the habitat to provide further protection to the astronauts living inside. It serves as an impact absorption barrier for space debris and meteoroids.
“The LIFE habitat can orbit the Earth, moon, and Mars and has room for science experiments, exercise equipment and an Astro Garden® system, providing fresh produce for the crew on board. While moon and Mars missions will host four astronauts, our LIFE habitat has the ability to host up to 12 in low Earth orbit”
SNC’s main structural layer of its habitat is made out of Vectran™, and while it’s created to withstand the extreme pressure strain of the inflated environment, it’s not quite enough to protect the crew or withstand high velocity impacts while on orbit. According to Program Manager Bradley H., a highly resilient barrier like the meteorite shield was added to provide this critical safety barrier for crew and hardware. This added layer is made from a number of different materials, including Kevlar®, a material often used in bulletproof vests.
Like the habitat itself, the meteorite shield also adds extra protection from radiation. Bradley says additional testing will be done with NASA to see just how much extra protection it will contribute.
SNC obviously doesn’t have access to meteoroids, so our engineers and technicians had to get creative in the beginning stages of testing. Bradley says the shield was tested at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico by shooting micro-meteorite-like projectiles at the shield samples. This testing helps our engineers understand the level of thickness the material needs to be to protect astronauts from on-orbit impacts. The shield needs to meet a high probability of no penetration requirement to ensure everything and everyone aboard the spacecraft is protected.
The LIFE habitat and its meteorite shield offer versatility to the soft goods structure market, and it’s one reason Bradley says he stays interested in his work every day. “We can meet NASA missions from low-Earth orbit, to the lunar surface, to Mars transit with a single soft goods design.”
He also tells us the LIFE habitat is one way SNC is moving humanity towards the future, “Human space sustainability and survivability are the next steps in our evolution and the LIFE habitat has what humans need for a permanent presence in space.”
Finally, we asked Bradley who he would want to travel to space and live with in the LIFE habitat and he said his dad. “My father was a space enthusiast pioneering a lot of work in the Department of Defense and intelligence community. He always wanted to be a pilot and astronaut, so he would have really enjoyed the exploration side of things.”