Blue Origin’s ambitious plan to build a commercial space station

October 26, 2021
Image: Blue Origin

Seasoned space agencies, high-tech consortia, Earth-bound nations, media and travel companies, entrepreneurs, inventors and future-minded investors.

Those are the kind of users the consortium headed by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Sierra Space expect to attract with their plan to build a commercial space station dubbed “Orbital Reef” in low Earth orbit.

The hope is they can develop new markets by offering their customers cost-competitive end-to-end services that include transportation and logistics as well as a place to stay and store equipment with an onboard crew.

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The companies describe Orbital Reef as a “mixed business park” that will leverage reusable spacecraft as well as advanced automation and logistics to cut costs and the complexity of operating in space.

It will fly in a low inclination, 500-kilometre orbit and feature world-class technical accommodation with futuristic “space architecture”.

Image: Blue Origin

Assuming what is currently an ambitious plan comes to fruition, each of the partners will add something to the mix.

Blue Origin, for example, will provide the reusable heavy-lift capability needed to boost the station components into space as well as utility systems and the big core modules.

Sierra will provide other modules as well as a spaceplane called Dreamchaser for crew and cargo transportation.

Boeing will provide a science module, operations and maintenance services as well as its Starliner crew spacecraft.

Other partners include Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering solutions and a consortium of universities headed by Arizona State University.

“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.”

The companies see the first-ever commercial orbital platform as carrying forward the work done on the aging International Space Station (ISS)  in areas such as microgravity research, development and manufacturing.

“This is exciting for us because this project does not duplicate the immensely successful and enduring ISS, but rather goes a step further to fulfill a unique position in low Earth orbit where it can serve a diverse array of companies and host non-specialist crews,” said Boeing’s ISS program manager, John Mulholland.

Plans include a “single-person spacecraft” from Gensisis Engineering Solutions that will allow workers and tourists to move outside Orbital Reef.

“The Single-Person Spacecraft will transform spacewalking,” said Genesis program manager Brand Griffin.

“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.”