Blue Origin announced today that it has plans to build its own space station. Teaming with Sierra Space and backed by various companies and organizations, including Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions, and Arizona State University, Orbital Reef is described as a “‘mixed use business park’ in space,” according to Blue Origin’s announcement today.
Essentially, it seems like Blue Origin and Sierra Space envision Orbital Reef as a place for private businesses and universities to conduct research and develop technologies in microgravity environments. “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,” today’s announcement reads.
The Orbital Reef will employ reusable space transportation to shuttle resources and people back and forth between the station and the Earth, while the station itself will use “advanced automation and logistics” to “minimize cost and complexity” for clients. It seems that Blue Origin even sees a future where Orbital Reef can be used by nations lacking a space program for low Earth orbit research.
“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,” Blue Origin said in today’s announcement. Blue Origin will be providing things like the utility systems, the large core models for the station, and the New Glenn launch system. On the other hand, Sierra Space will be providing the Large Integrated Flexible Environment module, node modules, and the Dream Chaser spaceplane, which can shuttle crew and cargo to Orbital Reef and land on runways around the world.
Other companies will also provide components, with Boeing offering up science modules and the Starliner crew spacecraft. Arizona State University has a unique job in helping get Orbital Reef off the ground, as it will lead “a global consortium of universities providing research advisory services and public outreach.”
While all of this certainly sounds interesting, it will be quite some time before we see Orbital Reef ready for clients. Blue Origin announced today that the space station should begin operating in the second half of this decade, but that’s a very big window of time. Still, by the time 2030 rolls around, we could have a private space station acting as a research hub for private businesses, and that could be a game-changer.