Blue Origin has more ambitious plans than simple space tourism. Today, the space flight company owned by Jeff Bezos announced that it is also working on creating its own space station. Named the Orbital Reef, it promises to be something like an industrial and commercial hub, and should start operating in the second half of this decade.
It will be developed, owned and operated in partnership with Sierra Space, a subsidiary of the Sierra Nevada Corporation. Sierra Space is perhaps better known for the Dream Chaser, a spacecraft that is scheduled to begin operations in 2022 and transport cargo to the International Space Station. Orbital Reef is also supported by Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions and Arizona State University. The company hopes to use Boeing’s Starliner and Sierra Space’s already mentioned Dream Chaser to transport cargo and passengers to Orbital Reef.
Imagine the Orbital Reef as essentially a “business park”, but in space. In a press release, Blue Origin said the destination would “offer research, industrial, international and commercial clients cheaply competitive comprehensive services they need, including space transportation and logistics, space accommodation, equipment accommodation and operations including crew.” Anyone who wants to “establish their address in orbit” can do so.
Blue Origin said that the Orbital Reef will be inhabited by up to 10 people, which is almost as much as on the International Space Station. It will have a “man-centered space architecture” with “world-class services and facilities”. There will be several ports to visit with spacecraft and modules. Orbital Reef will obviously have an open system that will allow any customer or nation to use it. As the market for such facilities grows, Blue Origin promises that Orbital Reef will increase facilities and utilities to suit.
“Experienced space agencies, high-tech consortia, sovereign nations without space programs, media and tourism companies, funded entrepreneurs and sponsored inventors, as well as future-oriented investors, all have their place on Orbital Reef,” the company said in a statement.
“For more than sixty years, NASA and other space agencies have been developing orbital space flights and space housing, setting us up for commercial operations to begin this decade,” said Brent Sherwood, senior vice president of advanced development programs for Blue Origin. “We will expand access, reduce costs and provide all the services and amenities needed to normalize space flights. A vibrant business ecosystem will grow in low Earth orbit, generating new discoveries, new products, new entertainment and global awareness. ”
Blue Origin’s only successful project is a suborbital tourism program that sends travelers to the edge of space (and back) on New Shepard. Eight people had already flown, including Bezos, as well as William Shatner of Star Trek. Other projects, such as the New Glenn rocket (which the company hopes to use to launch some of the Orbital Reef modules) and the lunar lander Blue Moon are still in development.
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