A representation of the space station “Ocean Reef” in orbit.
WASHINGTON – Jeff Bezos On Monday, Blue Origin unveiled its plan for a private space station called “Orbital Reef”, which it will build in collaboration with several space companies and expects to distribute between 2025 and 2030.
Blue Origin describes the Orbital Reef station, which would be habitable for up to 10 people, as a “mixed business park” in space – as well as capable of “exotic hospitality” for space tourists.
Ocean Reef is designed to have almost as much habitable volume as the International Space Station.
The company’s main partner for the station is Sierra Space, a subsidiary of the aerospace contractor Sierra Nevada Corporation, with the team also Boeing, Redwire Spaceand Genesis Engineering.
“We have just begun to understand the enormous implications that research, development and fabrication of microgravity can have, not just for exploring the universe and making discoveries but for improving life on Earth,” Redwire CEO Mike Gold told CNBC.
Shares in Redwire Space were temporarily halted by the New York Stock Exchange after rising after the announcement. The stock jumped as much as 40% in trading from its previous close of $ 12.16.
Blue Origin will provide the space station’s “tool system” and “core modules” and plans to use its new Glenn rocket to launch Ocean Reef.
Sierra Space contributes with its LIFE (Large Integrated Flexible Environment) environment, mainly an inflatable space station module) and plans to use the Dream Chaser spacecraft to transport cargo and crew to and from the station.
Redwire Space, which was published in September, will run the station’s payload operations and build expandable structures. Redwire also plans to use Orbital Reef for research, development and manufacturing of gravity.
Boeing will build Ocean Reef’s science-oriented module and run the station’s operations, as well as conduct maintenance technology. The airline giant also plans to use its Starliner capsule for transport of crew and cargo to the station.
Genesis Engineering will contribute with its “Single Person Spacecraft” system, which the company describes as an alternative to a spacesuit.
In a conference call with reporters, executives representing the company’s team declined to say how much each one expects to invest in Orbital Reef.
Blue Origin vice president Brent Sherwood said the team will not give “a specific number” on how much the Ocean Reef space station will cost, adding that the financial figures are commercially sensitive.
Bezo’s company has been looking at building a space station for more than a year CNBC reported earlier, and earlier this month added a number of job postings for its “Orbital Destinations” team.
Bezos vision: Living and working in space
Amazon Founder, Chairman, CEO and President Jeff Bezos gives a thumbs up when he speaks at an event about Blue Origin’s space exploration plans in Washington, USA, May 9, 2019.
Clodagh Kilcoyne | Reuters
Orbital Reef fits perfectly into the center of Bezo’s vision for Blue Origin, which is to get there “millions of people live and work in space to benefit the earth”, especially by moving “industries that stress the earth in space”.
Bezos has personally increased its involvement with Blue Origin, after he resigned as CEO of Amazon this summer. While the company has had success with its suborbital New Shepard rocket, after flying two successful crew flights so far, Blue Origin has been reviewed due to rising staff turnover and accusations of safety issues, as well as a “toxic” work culture, by former employees.
Blue Origin has collaborated with other large space companies before, after collaborating with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper to build a manned lunar lander for NASA’s HLS program.
Although the Blue-Origin-led team won a $ 579 million award for early development, it lost the following $ 2.9 billion contract to Elon Musks SpaceX earlier this year. Blue Origin has since taken NASA to court and filed a lawsuit against the space organization to reverse the lunar lander prize.
The space station’s competition is heating up
Blue Origin intends to bid on one of NASA’s expected contracts for the “Commercial LEO Destinations” program, but Bezos’ company is not alone. NASA’s head of commercial spaceflight, Phil McAlister, told CNBC last month that the program “received about a dozen proposals” from a variety of contract companies.
With NASA planning to retire the International Space Station at the end of the decade, the CLD program represents an attempt to turn to private companies for new space stations – with the space organization expecting to save more than $ 1 billion annually as a result.
“We are in a second golden age of space exploration and development,” said Redwire’s Gold.
Last week, another private space station was announced by a separate team of companies: Nanoracks, Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin is building a station called Starlab, which plans to be operational in 2027.
Starlab is designed to be manned by up to four astronauts, with about a third of the ISS volume.
Concept art of a “Starlab” space station
NASA has already started financing the ambitions of a company under a separate contract from the CLD program, after being awarded Axiom Space with 140 million dollars. Axiom plans to build modules that will connect to the ISS. When the ISS retires, Axiom would then loosen its modules and make it a free-flying space station.
An illustration of three of the company’s modules connected to the International Space Station.