Blue Origin and Sierra Space have announced plans to build a commercially developed, owned, and operated space station in low Earth orbit. Orbital Reef, as it has been named, will function as a “mixed-use business park” in space, offering research, industrial, international, and commercial customers cost competitive end-to-end services including space transportation and logistics, space habitation, equipment accommodation, and operations with onboard crew.
“For over sixty years, NASA and other space agencies have developed orbital space flight and space habitation, setting us up for commercial business to take off in this decade,” said Brent Sherwood, Senior Vice President of Advanced Development Programs for Blue Origin. “We will expand access, lower the cost, and provide all the services and amenities needed to normalize space flight. A vibrant business ecosystem will grow in low Earth orbit, generating new discoveries, new products, new entertainments, and global awareness.”
Orbital Reef will contain multiple habitation amenities, from living and working quarters to medical and recreational facilities. Users may lease or own addresses on orbit for activities as diverse as filmmaking in microgravity, running a space hotel and conducting scientific research.
Intended to open new markets in space, Orbital Reef is designed to accommodate a variety of customers. Reusable space transportation and advanced automation and logistics aims to minimize cost and complexity for both traditional space operators and new arrivals. Blue Origin and Sierra Space envision a range of users including seasoned space agencies, high-tech consortia, sovereign nations without space programs, media and travel companies, funded entrepreneurs and sponsored inventors, and future-minded investors.
With standard interfaces at all levels – locker, rack and module – Orbital Reef’s team will have all the services and systems they require to meet the needs of emergent customers, the announcement said. Its open system architecture should allow any customer to link up and scale to support demand. Module berths, vehicle ports, utilities, and amenities will all increase as the market grows.
“Sierra Space is thrilled to partner with Blue Origin and provide the Dream Chaser spaceplane, the LIFE module and additional space technologies to open up space for commercial research, manufacturing, and tourism,” said Dr. Janet Kavandi, former three-time NASA astronaut and Sierra Space president. “As a former NASA astronaut, I’ve been waiting for the moment where working and living in space is accessible to more people worldwide, and that moment has arrived.”
Orbital Reef will start operating in the second half of this decade.
Currently, the ISS is the only fully operational space station. Orbital Reef is not the first commercial one, though. Others have been proposed in the past, and Axiom Space is constructing Axiom Station, which will double the size of the ISS and is expected to launch in 2024. China has also launched the first of three modules for its Tiangong space station, and other countries including Russia and India plan to launch their own.
“The Single Person Spacecraft will transform spacewalking,” said Brand Griffin, Program Manager for Genesis Engineering Solutions, which is responsible for providing the single-person craft. “Space workers and tourists alike will have safe, comfortable, and quick access outside Orbital Reef. A shirtsleeve environment, great visibility, automated guidance, and advanced precision manipulators will make external operations cost-effective and routine.”