Blue Origin, Sierra Space make plans for Orbital Reef commercial space station

Blue Origin, Sierra Space make plans for Orbital Reef commercial space station

Other organisations reportedly on board include Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions and Arizona State University.

Intended to “unlock” LEO, the aim is to offer research bodies and commercial customers the chance to establish their own presence in orbit.

This would include the “end-to-end services they need including space transportation and logistics, space habitation, equipment accommodation, and operations including onboard crew,” said the announcement.

It’s planned that the modular station would start operating in the second half of this decade.

According to Blue Origin:

“Orbital Reef will be operated as a “mixed use business park” in space. Shared infrastructure efficiently supports the proprietary needs of diverse tenants and visitors. It features a human-centered space architecture with world-class services and amenities that is inspiring, practical, and safe. 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. 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.”

Pictured above is a very artistic impression of the core module of Orbital Reef, courtesy of Blue Origin. You can read more about the planned station on its website.

“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 VP 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 allocation of responsibility and expertise for delivering the Orbital Reef plan is as follows:

  • Blue Origin – Utility systems, large-diameter core modules, and reusable heavy-lift New Glenn launch system.
  • Sierra Space – Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) module, node module, and runway-landing Dream Chaser spaceplane for crew and cargo transportation, capable of landing on runways worldwide.
  • Boeing – Science module, station operations, maintenance engineering, and Starliner crew spacecraft.
  • Redwire Space – Microgravity research, development, and manufacturing; payload operations and deployable structures.
  • Genesis Engineering Solutions – Single Person Spacecraft for routine operations and tourist excursions.
  • Arizona State University – Leads a global consortium of universities providing research advisory services and public outreach.

Sierra Space

We reported on Sierra Space back in June 2021 when it gave a boost to the hopes of Spaceport Cornwall to be the landing centre for space vehicles, such as Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser.

The US company – the new commercial space subsidiary of aerospace specialist Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) – signed a memorandum of understanding with Spaceport Cornwall, England’s horizontal launch Spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay.

Orbital Reef competition

This week Lockheed Martin also signed up for Starlab to become the first commercial space station, joining forces with Nanoracks and Voyager Space.

Starlab – operating in low-Earth orbit – is planned to achieve initial operational capability by 2027. The company will be designing and building the habitable area on the station.

Additionally, there will be competition from Houston-based Axiom Space, which is aiming to develop the first commercial space station in operation. It has raised $130m in Series B funding, we reported back in February 2021.

The starting gun was fired by NASA, earlier in the year, when it announced the Commercial LEO Destination (CLD) project to support the development of private space stations. CLD is intended to stimulate a LEO economy and provide science and crew capabilities in LEO before the International Space Station (ISS) retires.