Blue Origin and Sierra Space revealed their plans for Orbital Reef, a commercially developed, owned, and operated space station to be built in low Earth orbit. 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 is backed by space industry leaders and teammates including Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions, and Arizona State University.
While the project is without a doubt exciting it should be said that none of the companies currently involved has yet launched a manned vehicle into Earth’s orbit. Blue Origin has come closest with the recent, successful, sub-orbital launches while Boeing is still experiencing challenges with its Starliner CST-100 Reusable Capsule, which has failed the first unmanned attempt to dock at the ISS. Sierra Nevada has been developing its very ambitious Dream Chaser space plan for well over a decade. Joining forces and working towards building an actual space destination is sure to further motivate and drive all partners involved. Redwire Space’s in-space additive manufacturing and additive construction experience and ongoing research will help build that habitat
The core module of Orbital Reef
Designed to open multiple new markets in space, Orbital Reef will provide anyone with the opportunity to establish their own address on orbit. This unique destination will offer research, industrial, international, and commercial customers the cost-competitive end-to-end services they need including space transportation and logistics, space habitation, equipment accommodation, and operations including onboard crew. The station will start operating in the second half of this decade.
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.
The Orbital Reef business model makes it easy for customers and is strategically designed to support a diverse portfolio of uses. The team has all the services and systems to meet the needs of emergent customers, including researchers, manufacturers, and visitors. Orbital Reef offers standard interfaces at all levels – locker, rack, and module. 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.
AM in and for space
The Orbital Reef space station team of experts brings proven capabilities and new visions to provide key elements and services, including unique experience from building and operating the International Space Station. Founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezo, Blue Origin will provide the utility systems, large-diameter core modules, and reusable heavy-lift New Glenn launch system. The company is a large adopter of 3D printing technology across various phases of the New Glenn development and production.
“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 Vice President 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.”
Readers of this website will also be familiar with Redwire Space, a company specializing in microgravity research, development, and manufacturing; payload operations and deployable structures. Redwire acquired space 3D printing pioneer Made in Space and has since conducted several 3D printing projects on the ISS. The company is also soon to go public via a SPAC merger.
“The Orbital Reef represents the next evolution of the commercial space paradigm by creating the first-ever crewed private sector platform in low Earth orbit. The Orbital Reef will carry forward the singular legacy of the ISS, supporting innovative microgravity research, development, and manufacturing activities which will advance fields as diverse as communications and biotechnology,” said Mike Gold, Executive Vice President for Civil Space and External Affairs at Redwire. “The microgravity environment presents an entirely new arena for commercial and scientific development, making Orbital Reef the platform that will launch new technologies and capabilities dramatically improving life on Earth while enabling humanity’s journey to the stars.”
Sierra Space will provide the 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 will contribute with the science module, station operations, maintenance engineering, and Starliner CST-100 crew spacecraft. Genesis Engineering Solutions is developing a Single Person Spacecraft for routine operations and tourist excursions. Finally, Arizona State University leads a global consortium of universities providing research advisory services and public outreach.