By Jackie Wattles, CNN Business
Blue Origin, the rocket and space tourism company founded by Jeff Bezos, is offering a massive new commercial space station called ‘Orbital Reef’ that could be used to host science experiments, vacation getaways, and potentially even manufacturing in the space.
The company plans to work alongside startup Sierra Space to complete the space station, and Boeing plans to design a research module on the station, although there is no guarantee that the companies will be able to make it happen. Such projects are always extremely expensive and risky, possibly costing tens of billions of dollars and requiring several safe launches before a human even floats on board.
Blue Origin and Sierra Space plan to co-fund the space station, although executives declined to give an overall cost estimate at a press conference on Monday. They added that they expected to sign with NASA as the primary tenant, although it is not exactly clear how such a partnership could take shape.
NASA has issued calls for proposals for commercial space stations as the 20-year-old International Space Station – which has hosted professional astronaut crews from the United States, Russia and more than 100 others country – approaching the end of its useful life. . Several other companies, including Texas startups Nanoracks and Axiom, have made similar proposals.
Blue Origin is hoping Orbital Reef could be up and running in the late 2020s, although it will take a lot to make that happen. The company has only handled a few suborbital crewed flights so far, much like NASA first did in the early 1960s, and it has yet to put a spacecraft into orbit, not to mention a person. A space station would take a big step.
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New Glenn, the rocket built by Blue Origin that is expected to be powerful and large enough to carry most of the space station into orbit, is not yet operational and its maiden flight was recently postponed to at least the end of 2022. .
Spacecraft that could be used to transport people to and from the space station are also still in the development stage. The Boeing Starliner, for example, has seen many setbacks and will not perform a crucial test flight until mid-2022.
The orbital reef will accommodate up to 10 people and will have roughly the same internal volume as the ISS.
Several other companies were involved in Monday’s announcement on Orbital Reef, citing proposed uses for various companies and products in the space they are developing. A company called Genesis is also working to develop a way to allow astronauts to perform spacewalks without spacesuits by placing people in vacuum-sealed pods with robotic arms so that they can someday work on it. exterior of such a space station.
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A company called Redwire is also working on manufacturing in space in the form of 3D printing, which could one day make it easier to produce new goods in space rather than having to go through the arduous and expensive process of manufacturing goods on Earth then launching them to space.
As for space station operations, companies around the world – in industries ranging from pharmacy to materials science – could use it to conduct microgravity research, as they are already doing on the ISS. NASA has long recognized the benefits of doing research in space. In the microgravity environment, physical and biological phenomena are not blocked by Earth’s attraction. So doing the same experiment on the station that was done in the field can give scientists a better fundamental understanding of how something works.
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