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Blue Origin, the private spaceflight company founded by Amazon's Jeff Bezos, has made headlines recently for its missions, including the day Bezos himself blasted into orbit and a mission that included a flight into space for Star Trek legend William Shatner. Now, Blue Origin is preparing for its next phase: A "mixed use business park" in space.
This week the company announced Orbital Reef, a new space station project in partnership with Sierra Space, Boeing, Genesis Engineering Solutions, Arizona State University, and several other entities which hopes to "open the next chapter of human space exploration" by doing for commercial spaceflight what the International Space Station did for NASA and other government space agencies. Announced with the goal of opening "multiple new markets" in space, Orbital Reef is envisioned as a space where businesses, research entities, governments, and more can take advantage of the station's infrastructure and crew to create "the premier commercial destination in low Earth orbit."
To pull off this effort, Blue Origin is providing modules, utilities, and the use of its New Glenn launch system, while Sierra Space is provided more modules and the use of its Dream Chaser space plane, and Boeing is offering up its Starliner spacecraft, a science module, and resources maintenance for the station. Other partners bring their own expertise and resources to the party, including Genesis Engineering Solutions, which is developing a singe person spacecraft for use on the station as both an operational vehicle and a kind of spacewalk craft for space tourists.
“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,” Brent Sherwood, Senior Vice President of Advanced Development Programs for Blue Origin, said in a press release. “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.”
Blue Origin's announcement included the hope that the station would be up and running in the "second half of this decade," but did not provide a firm launch date. The station is also designed to be scaleable based on customer demand, so at the moment we don't know just how big it will be, or how many entities will be on it, when it first opens its door. All that means that, in the years ahead, we'll be watching a new space station project coming together before our very eyes, and how well it goes could be a sign of things to come.