Blue Origin, Sierra Space working on Commercial Space Station; UTEP participating as University Advisory Council member

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New Orbital Destination Opens Up Space For Business And Travel, Creating New Ecosystem

Orbital Reef concept photos, official say the station should be operational by the second half of this decade | Photo courtesy Blue Origin

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Monday morning, officials with Blue Origin and Sierra Space announced their plans for a commercially developed, owned, and operated space station to be built in low Earth orbit, known as  Orbital Reef.

Company officials share that 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.

Orbital Reef is backed by space industry leaders and teammates including Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions, and Arizona State University.

“For over sixty 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…we will expand access, lower the cost, and provide all the services and amenities needed to normalize space flight. A vibrant business ecosystem will grow in low Earth orbit, generating new discoveries, new products, new entertainments, and global awareness.”

Brent Sherwood, Senior Vice President of Advanced Development Programs for Blue Origin.

Both companies say that the Orbital Reef is designed to open multiple new markets in space, providing anyone with the opportunity to establish their own address on orbit. They say the 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.

Officials add that the station will start operating in the second half of this decade.

“Sierra Space is thrilled to partner with Blue Origin and provide the Dream Chaser spaceplane, the LIFE module and additional space technologies to open up space for commercial research, manufacturing, and tourism. As a former NASA astronaut, I’ve been waiting for the moment where working and living in space is accessible to more people worldwide, and that moment has arrived.”

Dr. Janet Kavandi, three time NASA astronaut and Sierra Space president.

Orbital Reef will be operated as a “mixed use business park” in space. Shared infrastructure efficiently supports the proprietary needs of diverse tenants and visitors.

According to officials the station will feature a “human-centered space architecture with world-class services and amenities that is inspiring, practical, and safe.”

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. 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.

Blue Origin news release

The Orbital Reef team of experts brings proven capabilities and new visions to provide key elements and services, including unique experience from building and operating the International Space Station:

  • Blue Origin – Utility systems, large-diameter core modules, and reusable heavy-lift New Glenn launch system.
  • Sierra Space – Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) module, node module, and runway-landing Dream Chaser spaceplane for crew and cargo transportation, capable of landing on runways worldwide.
  • Boeing – Science module, station operations, maintenance engineering, and Starliner crew spacecraft.
  • Redwire Space – Microgravity research, development, and manufacturing; payload operations and deployable structures.
  • Genesis Engineering Solutions – Single Person Spacecraft for routine operations and tourist excursions.
  • Arizona State University – Leads a global consortium of universities providing research advisory services and public outreach.

“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. 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.”

John Mulholland, Boeing VP and program manager for the International Space Station

The project’s goal is to go beyond the current operational parameters of the International Space Station, now in it’s 22nd year in orbit, with 20 of those years featuring full-time occupation.

“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.” “The microgravity environment presents an entirely new arena for commercial and scientific development, making Orbital Reef the platform that will launch new technologies and capabilities dramatically improving life on Earth while enabling humanity’s journey to the stars.”

Mike Gold, Executive Vice President for Civil Space and External Affairs at Redwire

“The Single Person Spacecraft will transform space walking,” said Brand Griffin, Program Manager for Genesis Engineering Solutions. “Space workers and tourists alike will have safe, comfortable, and quick access outside Orbital Reef. Shirtsleeve environment, great visibility, automated guidance, and advanced precision manipulators will make external operations cost-effective and routine.”

“ASU’s Interplanetary Initiative is honored to be leading the university consortium that is supporting Orbital Reef.” “We’ve brought together an international group of more than a dozen universities to work on the ethics and guidelines of research — on how we can bring to bear all our expertise in science and research and manufacturing in low gravity, to help nations, corporations and groups that want access to Orbital Reef. It’s about collectively believing in our future and bringing science and engineering to bear on a better future – hugely exciting.”

Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Vice President of ASU’s Interplanetary Initiative and Principal Investigator of the NASA Psyche mission.

Several universities are member of the Orbital Reef University Advisory Council, including UTEP. The group is led by Arizona State University (ASU).

Comprising more than a dozen leading academic institutions with expertise in space and microgravity research, the University Research Advisory Council will focus academic community needs, stimulate research, advise novice researchers, evolve standards of conduct, and lead STEM outreach.

  • University Advisory Council members include:
  • Arizona State University
  • Colorado School of Mines
  • International Space University
  • Oxford University
  • Purdue University
  • Southwest Research Institute
  • Stanford University
  • University of Central Florida
  • University of Colorado at Boulder
  • University of Florida
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Texas at El Paso
  • University of Texas Medical Branch
  • Vanderbilt University

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