Blue Origin has revealed new plans for a space station called Orbital Reef and should be launched between 2025 and 2030. The space station will have the same internal volume as the current international space station. Orbital Reef will be used by researchers, industrial and commercial customers as well as international partners to visit and work. Blue Origin will build and launch the new space station together with Sierra Space. Blue Origin says that Orbital Reef also has the backing of additional spaceflight companies. which are Boeing, as well as Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions, and Arizona State University.
The space station will be able to house 10 people at the same time. There will be separate areas for living and for conducting science projects. However, Blue Origin has not said how much the whole project will cost. Given that the company wants to offer an “open system” so commercial companies, space agencies, and other tech companies can use the facility it should be feasible that the space company can make back its money. (let’s hope it does though).
Sierra space and Blue Origin said they want that Boeing’s new Starliner spacecraft and Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser would provide human and cargo transport to Orbital Reef. Dream Chaser has yet to fly, and Starliner has not flown people to orbit yet. The plan is to also launch most of Orbital Reef’s modules on Blue Origin’s future New Glenn rocket (which has not flown yet). It is yet to see if this can happen at all. Or that the given deadline before 2030 will be met at all.
There are a lot of challenges
Pieces of the new space station could be flown by other commercial rockets (like SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and heavy). The large volume modules and systems that Blue Origin is building are optimized for New Glenn’s diameter and capacity though. NASA is planning to give up to 400 million USD to two up to four Space Act Agreements to fund studies for these new Space stations.
The current ISS is very expensive and maintenance is getting more expensive each year. NASA spends around 3 to 4 billion USD each year to keep the ISS afloat. The International space station is now 23 years old and is expected to retire in 2030. NASA has been considering this kind of future for many years. NASA already holds a contract with one company. Axiom, to develop a private space station that can dock with the ISS as part of a previous space agency initiative which is called NextSTEP. Giving NASA a positive future to keep a space station in Earth’s orbit for the foreseeable future.
It will be interesting to see if Blue Origin can indeed put Orbital Reef in production before 2030. There are many steps en challenges to be completed. The plans are ambitious and I think we all agree that there needs to be a new space station before the International one is retired. Hope that Blue Origin can make this deadline.
The future of Space travel is sure going to be interesting.