Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin plans to build commercial space station ‘business park’ called Orbital Reef

Space station will be built in low Earth orbit, and will offer commerce, research and tourism services

Vishwam Sankaran
Tuesday 26 October 2021 08:47
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Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and other partners, including Boeing and Colorado-based company Sierra Space, have unveiled plans to build a commercial space station to be operated as a “mixed use business park” by the second half of this decade.

The commercially developed, owned, and operated space station called Orbital Reef will be built in low Earth orbit, offering commerce, research, and tourism services, Blue Origin announced in a statement on Monday.

With a volume nearly as big as that of the International Space Station, Blue Origin said Orbital Reef can accommodate up to 10 people, providing separate areas for living and conducting scientific research.

The services include space transportation and logistics, space habitation, equipment accommodation, and operations including onboard crew, opening new markets in space, the company claimed.

“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,” it noted.

The new type of space architecture with large Earth-facing windows could let travellers “take in the beauty of our planet” and “experience the thrill of weightlessness in complete comfort”, according to a fact-sheet released by Blue Origin.

The venture hopes to provide unique commercial opportunities for a mixed market such as film-making in microgravity, opening a space hotel, or conducting cutting-edge research.

“We will expand access, lower the cost, and provide all the services and amenities needed to normalise space flight. A vibrant business ecosystem will grow in low Earth orbit, generating new discoveries, new products, new entertainments, and global awareness,” Brent Sherwood, senior vice president of advanced development programs for Blue Origin, said in a statement.

However, Blue Origin and its partners have not yet revealed how much the space station would cost.

The partners include Sierra Space, Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions, and Arizona State University. They have also not shared details of how much they would invest in the project.

The companies plan to use Boeing’s Starliner and Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spacecraft to provide human and cargo transport to the commercial space station. Both vehicles are yet to be tested for their capabilities for human spaceflight.

The Dream Chaser spaceplane, the Starliner spacecraft, and Blue Origin’s New Glenn launch system are expected to provide the “backbone of cost-effective transportation”, the companies noted.

“This is exciting for us because this project does not duplicate the immensely successful and enduring ISS [International Space Station], 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,” John Mulholland, Boeing VP and program manager for the ISS, said in a statement.

“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,” Mr Mulholland added.

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