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Blue Origin announces Orbital Reef: Jeff Bezos’ space station

Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos' space company, has announced it will build Orbital Reef, its own private orbital station.

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Blue Origin, the aerospace company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, announced in a special press conference that it will build Orbital Reef, an orbiting space station. The company will be accompanied in this adventure by another private space company, Sierra Space, which in recent years has been working on the Dream Chaser project, a spaceplane that will begin transporting goods in 2022, with the aim of supplying the ISS as soon as possible.

Orbital Reef, the orbiting space station of Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos

Not many details about the Orbital Reef project were announced at the press conference. What we do know is that the orbital space station should start to be usable as early as the second half of the 1920s

According to yesterday’s announcement, the orbiting facility should be able to accommodate about 10 people in an internal volume that should be similar in size to that of the International Space Station. It will also have separate volumes in which scientific activities can be carried out or people can enjoy their stay in orbit. The Orbital Reef is intended both for scientific partners or technology companies wishing to use its space for experiments, and for any tourist who can afford the cost of travel and accommodation and wants to enjoy the in-orbit experience.

Images of the Orbital Reef core module (Blue Origin)

Blue Origin also plans to provide a full service to its customers, ranging from transportation to technological support and robotic services.

As the first commercial destination in low orbit, Orbital Reef will provide the essential infrastructure needed to move economic activities into space and open up new markets

Blue Origin in the presentation press note
The Orbital Reef presentation video

Blue Origin and Orbital Reef’s partners

In response to questions received during the conference regarding the economics of building the Space Station, Blue Origin preferred not to answer because this information is “part of the business case” and therefore it is not possible to give precise figures on how much the individual financiers intend to invest. It is certainly known that Blue Origin and Sierra Space are not the only partners. In addition to a number of universities, including the University of Arizona, other private space companies such as Boeing, Redwire Space and Genesis Engineering will also participate in the project.

Boeing and Sierra Space, in addition to providing technical and economic support for the Orbital Reef, will provide the main means of transport for passengers and cargo to the Station. Both are waiting to test their vehicles. Boeing’s Starliner is expected to carry the first astronauts into orbit as early as next year if there are no further hiccups. The same goes for Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser, which is aiming to carry out its first tests as early as 2022.

With respect to launching parts of the Orbital Reef into orbit, Blue Origin plans to rely on its new reusable rocket, the New Glenn. It appears that the Station parts themselves will be designed to be suitable for transport on Jeff Bezos’ new rocket, which is expected to replace the current New Shepard. Even for the New Glenn, however, it will be at least until the end of 2022 before the rocket is ready to fly.

NASA and private orbiting space stations

NASA is also looking with interest at the Blue Origin project. The US space agency itself has launched a new private funding initiative this year called Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development (CLD), under which it intends to provide up to $400 million over two to four years to any company willing to work on the development of a private orbital station.

This type of initiative was launched because NASA itself is aware that in a few years time the International Space Station will be decommissioned and the United States will be without a permanent space outpost (unlike China, which is already using its new orbital station). NASA’s plan therefore seems to be to extend the operating life of the very expensive ISS to no later than 2028, and in the meantime to have private orbiting stations placed in its place.

With respect to launching parts of the Orbital Reef into orbit, Blue Origin plans to rely on its new reusable rocket, the New Glenn. It appears that the Station parts themselves will be designed to be suitable for transport on Jeff Bezos’ new rocket, which is expected to replace the current New Shepard. Even for the New Glenn, however, it will be at least until the end of 2022 before the rocket is ready to fly.

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