All aboard the inflatable space station

Part bounce house, part groundbreaking space technology.

If you also spent your childhood thinking lost balloons could float all the way to outer space, we have an interesting update.

An astronaut being held up by a silver balloon over the outline of Earth.

Sierra Space is building an inflatable space station 250 miles from Earth to replace the International Space Station when it’s retired at the end of 2030, per Robb Report.

And while it might look a little like a bounce house, the “Large Integrated Flexible Environment” packs a punch:

  • LIFE launches to space inside of a rocket and inflates to its full size once in orbit.
  • It’s the height of a three-story building with a 27-foot diameter, and can fit four to six people. The space station would one day allow people to live and work for weeks at a time in low-Earth orbit.
  • LIFE is encased in nine layers of textile, including Vectran — a chemically woven material that’s 5x stronger than steel — to protect astronauts from space radiation, internal pressure, and micrometeoroids.
  • The station will house research labs, exercise equipment, and a vegetable garden.

But they won’t just be eating salads up there: Microgravity lets scientists develop tech that they couldn’t on Earth, like groundbreaking immunotherapy drugs and 3D-printed food.

Taking off

Before the LIFE space station can open its doors, Sierra must get people to space.

That’s where Dream Chaser — the first-ever winged commercial space plane — comes in: Through Sierra’s $3B contract with NASA, the space plane will make its first unpiloted cargo delivery to the ISS in September, after which it will start transporting people to the LIFE station.

And Sierra’s plans for the future are even wilder: Its LIFE 5000 prototype inflates to 5k cubic meters in orbit (that’s bigger than the whole ISS).

Plus, the company is working with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to build Orbital Reef, the world’s first commercial space station and a “mixed use business park.”

Return-to-office mandates are about to get extreme.

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