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Blue Origin wins NASA support for a new space station

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture and its partners have won a $130 million award to jump-start the design of their Orbital Reef commercial space station, which could take shape during the waning years of the International Space Station.

Two other teams also won NASA funding for their design efforts: Houston-based Nanoracks will get $160 million for its Starlab concept, while Northrop Grumman will get $125.6 million for its proposal.

Blue Origin — which is headquartered in Kent, Wash. — is partnering with Sierra Space as well as Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions and Arizona State University on Orbital Reef.

The project is envisioned as an expandable business park, with Boeing’s Starliner space taxi and Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser space plane transporting passengers to and from low Earth orbit for tourism, research, in-space manufacturing projects and more. NASA could presumably use Orbital Reef or the other commercial space platforms as a way station and training facility for missions beyond Earth orbit.

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Blue Origin leads team for ‘Orbital Reef’ space outpost

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is joining forces with Colorado-based Sierra Space and a host of other partners, including Boeing, to propose building a space-based “mixed-use business park” called Orbital Reef.

The plan, announced today at the International Astronautical Congress in Dubai, is among about a dozen proposals being submitted to NASA for a share of development funds under a program aimed at preparing the way for replacing the International Space Station.

If Blue Origin and its partners follow through on the plan, the basic version of Orbital Reef would be in low Earth orbit sometime during the latter half of the 2020s — in time for an orderly transition from ISS operations. That version would include power-generating capability, a core module with picture windows looking down on Earth, a habitat provided by Sierra Space and a Boeing-built science lab.

Blue Origin’s senior vice president of advanced development programs, Brent Sherwood, told me that Orbital Reef would cost “at least an order of magnitude less” than the International Space Station. The development cost for the International Space Station is typically estimated at $100 billion, which would imply a cost in the range of $10 billion for Orbital Reef.