Blue Origin, Boeing, and others join Sierra Space to build a commercial space station

Sierra Space revealed more details about its ambitions to launch a private space station, including the announcement that Blue Origin and Boeing would be joining the project to launch the ship into orbit in the second part of the decade. Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering, and Arizona State University will all contribute technology and services to the projected station, dubbed “Orbital Reef.” It is the third commercial space station to propose so far, coming just days after Voyager Space, Nanoracks, and Lockheed Martin unveiled their own ideas for a commercial space station, slated to launch in 2027. Axiom Space is also planning a commercial station.

Sierra Space first unveiled its ambitions for a commercial space station in April of this year, joining a rising chorus of private enterprises vying to replace the International Space Station, which is set to retired in 2019. A massive inflatable LIFE (Large Integrated Flexible Environment) habitat has been developed by the business, which is a branch of Sierra Nevada Corporation, and will use for Orbital Reef. This additional information adds to the plans that have already been announced.

During a media event on Monday, Blue Origin’s senior VP of the advanced development program, Brent Sherwood, described Orbital Reef as an “off-world mixed-use business park.” He speculated that the space station might use for a variety of commercial objectives, including scientific research, manufacturing, media, entertainment, and tourism. When fully operational, Orbital Reef will be able to accommodate ten people, and its internal volume will be roughly 90 percent that of the International Space Station.

Blue Origin will supply core modules, utility systems, and, most importantly, the company’s New Glenn heavy-lift launch system. Boeing will manage station operations, the scientific module, and the Starliner crew spacecraft that will transport astronauts to and from the station. Redwire, as well as payload operations and deployable structures, will provide microgravity research and in-space manufacturing. Genesis Engineering, based in Maryland, is working on a single-person spacecraft for routine operations and tourism, and Arizona State University will lead a consortium that will provide scientific consulting services.

“The microgravity environment opens up a whole new world of a scientific and commercial discovery,” said Mike Gold, Redwire’s executive vice president of civil space and external relations. “We are convinced that the countries and firms that master microgravity research, development, and production will be the future global economic leaders.” What is less apparent is the estimated cost of the station. Executives from the company declined to say how much money each of them will pay into the initiative or how much money the endeavor will cost in total. “We’re not going to offer you a particular number because the question you’re asking is part of our business case,” Sherwood said.

As part of its Commercial Low Earth Orbit Destinations project, NASA plans to invest up to $400 million in early space station bids, but that money will spread across numerous projects and is likely to be a fraction of the entire cost of developing and launching even a single station. NASA told CNBC last month that it had received “about a dozen offers” from businesses vying for some of the cash. The launch capabilities of Blue Origin’s New Glenn, Boeing’s Starliner, and Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spaceplanes are the other important piece of the puzzle. None of these vehicles has yet to reach orbit, though Boeing plans to test the Starliner again in the first part of 2022. Sierra Space has a contract with NASA for seven missions to the International Space Station utilizing Dream Chaser, while Blue Origin aims to launch New Glenn in the fourth quarter of this year.