Blue Origin announced on Monday official plans to build a commercial space station named Orbit Reef.
Blue Origin is partnering with Sierra Space, Boeing, Redwire Space, and Genesis Engineering. Each company would be a part of the station’s design, production, or operations, each bringing their expertise to the table. Blue Origin is expecting to deploy the space station starting in 2025 through 2030.
Orbital Reef will have room for up to 10 people, with Blue Origin describing the space station as a “mixed use business park.” For example, hosting both orbital research and space tourism.
“We’re just beginning to understand the tremendous implications that microgravity research, development and manufacturing can mean, for not only for exploring the universe and making discoveries but improving life on Earth.”Mike Gold, Executive Vice President, Redwire Space via CNBC
Blue Origin Space Station partners
Blue Origin will develop Orbital Reef’s core modules and “utility systems.” The company also will provide its New Glenn rocket to lift each of the space station’s modules.
Sierra Space, a subsidiary of Sierra Nevada Corporation, will provide its LIFE habitat (Large Integrated Flexible Environment). This module is similar to Bigelow’s expandable module on the International Space Station but much larger. Sierra will also use their Dream Chaser spaceplane to carry cargo and crew to the station. Currently, Sierra only has a cargo variant for NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services to the ISS, but the company has plans for a human-rated design.
The aerospace giant will build Orbital Reef’s science module and run operations of the station for Blue Origin. Boeing’s experience with NASA’s ISS spans decades, and they will bring this to the commercial market with Blue Origin. Boeing’s Starliner, while still having some trouble with development, will also be used for crew and cargo transportation.
Redwire will be in charge of Orbital Reef’s payload operations. The company will also build some “deployable structures” and use the station for research, development, and manufacturing.
One of the more interesting plans for Blue Origin’s space station project will be Genesis’ contribution. Genesis Engineering will design and develop and “Single Person Spacecraft” for those who visit. This will be an alternative to spacesuits used during spacewalks. This brings back memories of Werner von Braun’s “Bottle Suit,” which would have been used to build his orbital outpost.
Genesis brings a large amount of experience designing and developing spacecraft, including the James Webb and Roman space telescopes. However, this is their first adventure into human spacecraft.
Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef timeline
The timeline for this station is ambitious. Jeff Bezos has always had the vision to move humanity off Earth and into space, and this seems like a reasonable first step. However, given Blue Origin’s track record of other ventures, the tail end of this decade seems more likely for the first deployment. There is a chance NASA joins on board, as the agency is looking for a commercial replacement to the ISS. Government funding, something Blue Origin expects when making these timelines, could supercharge the development giving Blue Origin and their partners a fighting chance to meet their 2025 goal.
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