Private companies Blue Origin and Sierra Space have announced their plan to build a commercially owned and operated space station in low-Earth orbit called Orbital Reef. The facility, described as a “mixed-use business park in space”, is expected to be operational in the second half of this decade.
The announcement describes how the facility will allow a wide variety of activities in low-Earth orbit. Research is included, of course – but also a hotel, a space for filming movies in microgravity, and even manufacturing facilities.
The two companies will work with Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions, and Arizona State University to build and maintain the station as well as transport crew, visitors, and material from Earth to orbit and back. The station is expected to be modular, allowing other private businesses, space agencies, and nations to link up and expand it.
“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,” Brent Sherwood, Senior Vice President of Advanced Development Programs for Blue Origin, said in a statement. “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.”
Orbital Reef might come in just as the International Space Station (ISS) is on its way out. The ISS has been in orbit for over 20 years and has begun to show its age. Several parts of the Russian sections have been reported to have problems, including cracks, and it is currently uncertain what the future holds for the veteran space station past 2024.
NASA and the European Space Agency have their ambitions set on the Moon – hoping to launch the Lunar Gateway, a space station orbiting our satellite, as well as crewed missions to the Moon.
The construction of such a space station could also be good PR for Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. The company has seen accusations of sexism in the workplace by current and former employees, who have also expressed safety concerns. The company is also in a legal battle with NASA (whose verdict should come next week) which has delayed the space agency’s expected return to the Moon.