Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin Aims to Build Massive Commercial Space Station
The industrial and commercial hub, called Orbital Reef, should be operational by the late 2020s.
Jeff Bezos' aerospace company Blue Origin has partnered with Sierra Space to develop and operate a massive commercial space station, called Orbital Reef, by the end of the decade.
Sierra Space, a subsidiary of the Sierra Nevada Corporation, is best known for Dream Chaser, a spacecraft intended to transport cargo to the International Space Station in 2022.
Space industry leaders and partners including Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions and Arizona State University are also backing Orbital Reef.
According to Blue Origin's press release, "The station will open the next chapter of human space exploration and development by facilitating the growth of a vibrant ecosystem and business model for the future." Orbital Reef will allow anyone to establish his or her own address in low Earth orbit and take advantage of the hub's full-service offerings, which include space transportation and logistics, space habitation, equipment accommodation and operations.
Blue Origin also stated that Orbital Reef will serve as a "mixed use business park" and that veteran space agencies, high-tech consortia, sovereign nations lacking space programs, media and travel companies, funded entrepreneurs and sponsored inventors, and investors with an eye towards the future will all be welcome at the station.
The aerospace company said that Orbital Reef will be able to host up to 10 people — nearly as many as the International Space Station can hold. CNN reports that NASA has put out calls for proposals for commercial space stations as the 20-year-old International Space Station approaches the end of its lifespan.
"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 John Mulholland, Boeing VP and program manager for the International Space Station. "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."
To date, Blue Origin's sole successful venture is its suborbital tourist program, which takes passengers to the edge of space and back aboard the New Shepard. Eight people, including Bezos and Star Trek's William Shatner, have taken the flight. The company is continuing to develop its New Glenn rocket and Blue Moon lunar lander.
Of course, the projection of Orbital Reef's completion by the late 2020s is just that — an estimation. There are no guarantees, and it will likely take tens of billions of dollars and numerous safe launches before Orbital Reef can host its first guests.