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Orbital Reef: Blue Origin Announces Plan to Build A Space Station

Orbital Reef: Blue Origin Announces Plan to Build A Space Station

As the space economy race heats up, Blue Origin and SpaceX seem to be exploring ways to outdo each other in order to grab a larger share of the emerging market.

Blue Origin and Sierra Space announced on Tuesday plans for Orbital Reef, a “commercially developed, owned, and operated space station” to be built in low Earth orbit. The station will start operating in the second half of this decade.

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

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“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,” the companies said.

Following the successful commercial space outing of SpaceX last year, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have both recorded suborbital trips, increasing the frenzy as a horde of millionaires embrace luxury space trips as new hobby. With Space tourism expected to yield $1.1 trillion economy in 2040, rivalry has erupted between the companies, especially Blue Origin and SpaceX, who are also fighting to control space satellite internet.

Blue Origin was founded by Amazon Chairman Jeff Bezos, while SpaceX was founded by world’s richest person, Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The billionaire duo has been competing to dominate the luxury trip industry. While Musk’s SpaceX currently leads the pack with orbital services, the Orbital Reef idea may be the game changer for Bezos’ Blue Origin.

Blue Origin said the idea is backed by space industry leaders and teammates including Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions, and Arizona State University, and will 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 companies said.

This is a significant shift from Blue Origin’s original focus, which is to carry out suborbital commercial flights. The company successfully conducted its second commercial flight, onboarding 90-year old Start Trek actor, William Shatner, on October 13. Away from the well-established commercial flights, Blue Origin is embarking on a project that will provide alternative to the retiring International Space Station (ISS), and the Chinese Tiangong Space Station that is currently under construction.

“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,” the company said.

It explains that 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,” Blue Origin said. “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 companies said the idea is being developed in collaboration with space agencies and research institutes, who bring proven capabilities and new visions to provide key elements and services, including unique experience from building and operating the International Space Station.

Mike Gold, Executive Vice President for Civil Space and External Affairs at Redwire, said among other things, the Orbital Reef will help life on Earth while enabling humanity’s journey to the stars.

“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,” he said.

One of the advantages of the collaborations with other space agencies, researchers and experts, is to lower the cost of maintaining and using the station services.

“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.”

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