Blue Origin’s chief Jeff Bezos has reportedly lost $85.2 billion in 2022, yet the financial dent suffered is not preventing one of the richest men in the world from stepping up work to develop the Orbital Reef project, a planned private successor to the International Space Station (ISS).
1. Orbital Reef
Expected to orbit Earth somewhere around the year 2027, Orbital Reef is a planned low Earth orbit space station designed by Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Sierra Space for commercial space activities and space tourism uses. Blue Origin has referred to it as a “mixed-use business park”, which will rely on a supersonic spaceplane called Dream Chaser.
On December 13, Sierra Space successfully completed its second sub-scale Ultimate Burst Pressure (UBP) test in a prototype, to assess the inflatable space habitat where future astronauts shall live. The first test was successfully conducted in July 2022.
Sierra Space has successfully completed its second sub-scale Ultimate Burst Pressure (UBP) test and is the only active commercial space company to successfully meet multiple UBP trials.— Sierra Space (@SierraSpaceCo) December 13, 2022
Press Release: https://t.co/au3353ceD7 #Space #Engineering pic.twitter.com/jbaKXFvcdy
“The LIFE habitat module is essential technology for enabling humans to safely and comfortably begin to develop new civilizations in space,” said Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice after the December test. “This project will service many different opportunities for the new space economy, and the results of this most recent test and milestone are testament to the progress our team is making to enable the next chapter in space commercialization.”
2. Dream Chaser
The Dream Chaser is expected to carry out its first manned mission at some point in 2026. The supersonic spaceplane will be reusable roughly 15 times and it will be able to carry roughly 5,440 kg of cargo or 12 passengers. The spaceplane can land horizontally on any runway that is capable of accommodating a Boeing 747 or Airbus A380 and it is expected to land on commercial runways at international airports.
Sierra Space is developing Dream Chaser hoping to become the largest real estate developer in space alongside Blue Origin. In an interview with Robb Report, Vice claimed the world is now on the verge of “the Orbital Age”, which could be compared to the Industrial Revolution or the advent of the Information Age. “We first have to get good at building commercial economies in low earth orbit,” said Vice.
Then we’ll move to the lunar surface, 250,000 miles away, before we can figure out how to live on a planet that’s 35 million miles away.Tom Vice, Sierra Space CEO
3. NASA’s support
In December 2021, NASA signed agreements with three US companies — Blue Origin, Nanoracks and Northrop Grumann — to develop designs of space stations and other commercial destinations in space.
NASA has signed agreements with three companies for the development of commercial space stations in low Earth orbit:— Thomas Burghardt (@TGMetsFan98) December 2, 2021
Blue Origin – $130 million
Nanoracks – $160 million
Northrop Grumman – $125.6 million pic.twitter.com/lWQrmAKh5K
NASA awarded the Orbital Reef team $130 million via the agency’s Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development (CLDP) program, which aims to help get at least one commercial outpost up and running before the ISS is retired in the 2030 timeframe. “Building on our successful initiatives to partner with private industry to deliver cargo, and now our NASA astronauts, to the ISS, NASA is once again leading the way to commercialize space activities,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.