Jeff Bezos’s space exploration company Blue Origin has announced plans to launch a commercial space station into low-earth orbit in the latter half of this decade.
Describing the endeavour as a “mixed-use business park” in space, Blue Origin, and its main partner on the project, Sierra Space, said it would house up to 10 people in an area of about 30,000 cubic feet.
According to a promotional website, the station, to be called Orbital Reef, will be an ideal location for a “space hotel”, “film-making in microgravity” or “conducting cutting edge research”. Those on board would experience 32 sunsets and sunrises each day, the company said.
It is not clear how much investment is going into the project. The announcement comes as Blue Origin reels from missing out on crucial Nasa contracts to rival SpaceX, including a $2.9bn mission to the moon now being disputed by Blue Origin in court.
The modules for Orbital Reef will be launched into space via Blue Origin’s reusable New Glenn rocket, which has been beset by repeated delays.
Other groups involved include Boeing, Redwire Space and Genesis Engineering Solutions. Genesis, based in Maryland, will provide its Single Person Spacecraft to the project, billed as an alternative to bulky spacesuits when conducting operations outside the station. Arizona State University will lead a consortium of 14 universities who will act as an advisory council on research.
“This is exciting for us because this project does not duplicate the immensely successful and enduring [International Space Station],” said John Mulholland, Boeing’s programme manager for the ISS, “but rather goes a step further to fulfil a unique position in low-earth orbit where it can serve a diverse array of companies and host non-specialist crews”.
Shares in Redwire initially jumped by about 40 per cent on the news, before settling at about 20 per cent.
Sierra Space, a newly-created subsidiary of the Sierra Nevada Corporation, first announced its attention to create a space station in April, touting an economic opportunity projected to grow to $1.4tn by 2030. The company’s Dreamchaser space plane, which can take off from a runway, is expected to take passengers to the ISS next year.
The move to create Orbital Reef is one of several efforts to capitalise on the emerging commercial space sector, with the ISS set to be decommissioned later this decade, having previously been expected to be put out of action by 2024. Its first module was launched more than two decades ago.
“For over 60 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, Blue Origin executive.
“We will expand access, lower the cost, and provide all the services and amenities needed to normalise space flight.”
Earlier this year, Nasa announced a strategy to ensure “continuous human presence” in low-earth orbit, with private operators being used to “lead the way”.
Axiom Space, co-founded in 2016 by a former ISS programme manager, said it intends to create a space station, but will first attach its own habitable module to the ISS as soon as 2024, having won a $140m Nasa contract.
Last week, a team including Lockheed Martin said its Starlab station would be operational by 2027.