A consortium of aviation, technology and space companies have announced plans for the world’s first low orbit space station.
Blue Origin and Sierra Space have revealed their ambitions for Orbital Reef, a commercially developed, owned, and operated space station to be built in low Earth orbit.
The group said the station will “open the next chapter of human space exploration and development by facilitating the growth of a vibrant ecosystem and business model for the future”.
Orbital Reef is backed by a range of firms including Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions, and Arizona State University.
Designed to open multiple new markets in space, Orbital Reef will provide anyone with the opportunity to establish their own address on orbit.
“This unique destination will offer research, industrial, international, and commercial customers the cost competitive end-to-end services they need including space transportation and logistics, space habitation, equipment accommodation, and operations including onboard crew,” the group said.
The station will start operating in the second half of this decade. Orbital Reef will be operated as a “mixed use business park” in space.
“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.”
Shared infrastructure will support the diverse tenants and visitors. Described as the premier commercial destination in low Earth orbit, Orbital Reef will provide the essential infrastructure needed to scale economic activity and open new markets in space.
“Reusable space transportation and smart design, accompanied by advanced automation and logistics, will minimize cost and complexity for both traditional space operators and new arrivals, allowing the widest range of users to pursue their goals,” said the statement.
“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. 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,” said Dr Janet Kavandi, former three time NASA astronaut and Sierra Space president.
The group said the open system architecture allows any customer or nation to link up and scale to support demand. Module berths, vehicle ports, utilities, and amenities all increase as the market grows. The Orbital Reef business model makes it easy for customers and is strategically designed to support a diverse portfolio of uses.
“The team has all the services and systems to meet the needs of emergent customers, including researchers, manufacturers, and visitors,” it added. “Orbital Reef offers standard interfaces at all levels – locker, rack, and module. Seasoned space agencies, high-tech consortia, sovereign nations without space programs, media and travel companies, funded entrepreneurs and sponsored inventors, and future-minded investors all have a place on Orbital Reef.”
“This is exciting for us because this project does not duplicate the immensely successful and enduring ISS, but rather goes a step further to fulfil a unique position in low Earth orbit where it can serve a diverse array of companies and host non-specialist crews,” said John Mulholland, Boeing VP and program manager for the International Space Station. “It calls for the same kind of expertise we used to first design and then build the International Space Station and the same skills we employ every day to operate, maintain and sustain the ISS.”
“The Single Person Spacecraft will transform space walking,” said Brand Griffin, Program Manager for Genesis Engineering Solutions. “Space workers and tourists alike will have safe, comfortable, and quick access outside Orbital Reef. Shirtsleeve environment, great visibility, automated guidance, and advanced precision manipulators will make external operations cost-effective and routine.”