Blue Origin and Sierra Space to build commercial "business park in space"
Blue Origin and Sierra Space have revealed plans to place a commercially developed, owned, launched, and operated open-system architecture space station called Orbital Reef into low-Earth orbit between 2025 and 2030.
The retirement of the International Space Station (ISS) will occur before 2030 and the recent discovery of cracks in some of the oldest modules on the station highlight that this deadline is driven less by policy and more by the structure reaching the end of its service life. With this in mind, moves to replace the ISS with a commercial counterpart have shifted into top gear. The latest of these proposals comes from Blue Origin and Sierra Space, who propose to build Orbital Reef with the help of backers Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions, and Arizona State University.
The specifications of the satellite haven't been released, which is understandable at this early stage, but details of the basics of the program and who it will serve have been outlined. The large-diameter core modules and the reusable heavy-lift New Glenn launch system that will place them into orbit will be built by Blue Origin. Meanwhile, Sierra Space will provide a Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) module, a node module, and a Dream Chaser spaceplane for ferrying the crew, supplies, and payloads to and from Earth.
Boeing will develop the Science module and will handle station operation and maintenance engineering, while the company's Starliner crew spacecraft will also visit the platform. Redwire Space will work on microgravity research, development, and manufacturing as well as conducting payload operations and deployable structures. Genesis Engineering Solutions is building a 2001: A Space Odyssey-style space pod called the Single Person Spacecraft for outside work and tourist excursions without the need for a spacesuit, and Arizona State University will lead a global consortium of universities for research advisory and public outreach.
Once operational, Orbital Reef will be open to a wide variety of international customers in what is described as a mixed-use business park in space. The station will be used for research, manufacturing, tourism, education, and other tasks, while the partners provide space transportation and logistics, space habitation, equipment accommodation, general operations based on advanced automation, and station crew. The open architecture will allow the Orbital Reef to provide module berths, vehicle ports, utilities, and other items based on customer needs and the growth of the market.
"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," says 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 video below introduces Orbital Reef.
Source: Sierra Space