The International Space Station (ISS) is nearing the end of its lifespan. NASA plans to retire the ISS by 2031. To replace it, the Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development (CLD) programme has been developed, which is financed from NASA's budget and should encourage aerospace companies to build new private stations.
Blue Origin and Sierra Space submitted the Orbital Reef station project to NASA for a System Definition Review (SDR) this summer. The agency was positive about the feasibility of the project as NASA believes the companies have the technology and experience to successfully build Orbital Reef.
Unlike the ISS, which is exclusively controlled by space agencies from various countries, the new station will operate on a commercial basis. NASA gave Blue Origin Bezos $130 million and Sierra Space $1.4 billion to develop the station.
Orbital Reef will house 10 astronauts, which is similar to the ISS. The new station will have state-of-the-art laboratories for microgravity experiments, manufacturing facilities and rooms for space tourists. Sierra describes the future station as a 'mixed-use business park' in space.
Tom Vice, CEO of Sierra Space, states:
The microgravity factories and services provided by Orbital Reef have the potential to revolutionize every industry and become a major growth contributor to the U.S. and world economies.
Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin business is tied to space tourism. The company already flies into space with its own New Shepard spacecraft and rockets, and may eventually create versions of the rocket that can reach low Earth orbit to dock with Orbital Reef.
According to the original schedule, construction could begin in 2026, and the station could be operational as early as 2027.