Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Space and several other partners announced today (October 25) that they plan to build an above-ground commercial outpost called Orbital Reef, which is expected to be operational by the end of the 2020s.Customers envisioned by Orbital Reef include national governments, private industry and space tourists, project team members said. The outpost will initially complete, but ultimately take over from the International Space Station (ISS), which is expected to be retired by 2028 to 2030.
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“For more than 60 years, NASA and other space agencies have been developing orbital spaceflight and space homes, preparing us for commercial takeoff during this decade,” said Brent Sherwood, senior vice president of advanced development programs for Blue Origin, in a statement. statement today.
“We will expand access, reduce costs and provide all the services and equipment necessary to standardize spaceflight,” he added. “A vibrant business ecosystem will thrive in low earth orbit, generating new discoveries, new products, new entertainment and global awareness. “
Today’s announcement comes just four days after Nanoracks, Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin unveiled plans for their own private station, called Starlab. And Houston-based Axiom Space previously announced plans to launch modules on the ISS starting in 2024, then detach them and operate them as a free-flight commercial outpost.
Meet Orbital Reef
Orbital Reef is a collaboration involving heavyweights from the space industry. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin will supply some modules, and his heavy New Glenn rocket, which is expected to take off for the first time in late 2022, will be the primary launcher used to transport the station’s equipment into space.
Boeing, which is a key partner of the ISS program, will be in charge of operations and maintenance of Orbital Reef. The company will also provide science modules and its Starliner capsule will bring people and goods to the outpost. (Boeing has a contract with NASA to transport the agency’s astronauts to and from the ISS with Starliner, and the capsule is preparing for a crucial unmanned test flight to the orbital laboratory in the first half of 2022. )
Sierra Space’s scalable Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) modules will serve as Orbital Reef’s primary housing. The company’s Dream Chaser spaceplane will also be available for possible cargo and crew delivery, company officials said.
Redwire Space will supply the solar panels and other deployable structures. The company, whose subsidiary Made In Space has sent several 3D printers to the ISS, will also provide payload operations and support research and manufacturing work.
Genesis Engineering Solutions will provide a single-person spacecraft, which will allow visitors to Orbital Reef to take spacewalks from the outpost. And Arizona State University will lead a consortium of 14 universities that will provide advice on research and public education.
The plan calls for Orbital Reef to be commissioned by the end of the 2020s, in a “base configuration” comprising a power system, a central module, a LIFE habitat, a science module and a Genesis spacecraft. . This initial outpost will have 29,311 cubic feet (830 cubic meters) of pressurized volume and will be able to support up to 10 people, Sherwood said at a press conference today at the International Astronautical Conference in Dubai. .
For comparison, the ISS has 32,333 cubic feet (916 cubic m) of internal volume, which is equivalent to that of a Boeing 747. The four-person Starlab will have a habitat module with a volume of 12 000 cubic feet (340 cubic m).
But Orbital Reef will continue to grow over time, with many more modules possibly attached, if all goes as planned. And the members of the project team want it to serve many clients around the world.
“Like real reefs, the Orbital Reef will affect many, many countries around the world,” said Mike Gold, executive vice president for civil space and external affairs at Redwire, at today’s press conference. ‘hui. “It’s not an American station. It will be a global station that continues the proud international heritage of the ISS. “
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NASA wants to prepare the private successors of the ISS
NASA aims to encourage the development of Orbital Reef, Starlab, Axiom Station and other commercial outposts through Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD), a two-phase program modeled after the agency’s successful strategy to secure deliveries private cargo and crew to the ISS. .
“In the first phase, NASA will pursue several space-law-funded agreements for the early development of commercial destination concepts,” agency officials wrote in an update from the CLD earlier this year. “In the second phase, NASA intends to purchase destination services when those services become available for purchase. “
Orbital Reef team members are hoping to eventually secure funding from NASA, but they don’t wait for it.
“You can’t start in the middle of the decade and have a station ready to go so that you can have an operational capability overlap before the ISS is withdrawn, if it is withdrawn in 2030,” Sherwood said during today’s press conference. . He noted that CLD Phase 1 funding is expected to be “small” and that Phase 2 money is unlikely to be awarded until the mid-2020s.
The Orbital Reef partners are therefore investing a lot of their own money in the project. Sherwood declined to provide a cost estimate for the trade outpost, but said it would be “at least an order of magnitude lower” than the ISS’s roughly $ 100 billion price tag.
Mike Wall is the author of ” The low (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book on the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom Where Facebook.