Blue Origin shares plans for commercial space station Orbital Reef

Blue Origin has shared its plans for a future commercial space station called Orbital Reef. This space station is being built by various space companies and should become operational between 2025 and 2030.

The station is to function, among other things, as a kind of ‘mixed-use business park’, writes Blue Origin. Orbital Reef is to provide low-Earth orbit accommodation for researchers, as well as industrial and commercial customers. In terms of volume, the station would have almost as much habitable space as the ISS, the company reports to CNBC.

According to Blue Origin, the Orbital Reef station should provide space for up to ten people, with separate modules containing living quarters and places to conduct scientific studies. Blue Origin tells US media it will use its New Glenn rocket to launch modules from the space station, The Verge writes. Jeff Bezos’ space company also supplies several parts for the space station, including “utility systems” and the core module, the company reports in its blog post.

Source: Blue Origin

Collaboration with other companies

In addition to Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Space, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering and Arizona State University are also working on the future space station, providing various parts and technologies for use in the Orbital Reef project.

Sierra Space would also supply a large integrated flexible environment module. That is a kind of inflatable space station module that provides living space. According to the company, the LIFE module is suitable for use in low Earth orbit, where the space station will be located, and the module meets NASA’s requirements to withstand micrometeor impacts.

In addition, Redwire Space will handle the payload operations of Orbital Reef and the company will build ‘deployable structures’. The same company also plans to use Orbital Reef for microgravity research and R&D work. Boeing is building the scientific research module and will direct the station’s operations and perform maintenance. The company’s Starliner capsule would also be used to transport crew members and cargo to Orbital Reef.

Genesis Engineering offers its spacesuit alternative, which the company calls a single person spacecraft. This allows crew members to take spacewalks and perform maintenance on the space station with external robotic arms. The spacesuit will therefore be used for routine maintenance and will also be used for tourist excursions. Arizona State University also leads a global consortium of universities that provide research advice.

Commercial Space Stations

Orbital Reef’s announcement comes as no surprise. Blue Origin already published job openings last year that pointed to the arrival of a commercial space station, SpaceNews noted at the time. In it, the company said it is working on “a vision of millions of people living and working in space.” A habitable space station in low Earth orbit would be ‘the first step’.

NASA already announced a Commercial LEO Development program in March of this year, with which the space agency would partly fund commercial space stations owned by companies. Blue Origin was already mentioned in a downloadable PDF file with interested parties, alongside major competitors such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. The two companies have not yet shared plans for a space station.

The core module of Orbital Reef. Source: Blue Origin