NASA clears Blue Origin, Sierra Space's 'Orbital Reef' station for design phase

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Vice President Kamala Harris delivers speech in support of commercial space industry

Vice President Kamala Harris delivers speech in support of commercial space industry.

Orbital Reef, a commercially owned and operated space station project currently in development, has cleared a key review by NASA.

NASA's system definition review, which was conducted between mid-June and mid-July, demonstrated that Orbital Reef's design is feasible and achievable before proceeding to the next phase of development. Orbital Reef is being developed through a partnership between Blue Origin, Sierra Space, Boeing, Amazon, Arizona State University, Genesis Engineering Solutions and Redwire Space.

"This SDR moves Orbital Reef forward," Brent Sherwood, Blue Origin's senior vice president of advanced development programs, said in a statement. "We are meeting the needs of both the commercial marketplace and NASA's requirements. Orbital Reef will change the game for human spaceflight in Earth orbit."

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Designed to open multiple new markets in space, Orbital Reef will provide anyone with the opportunity to establish their own address in orbit. The station will offer research, industrial, international and commercial customers cost-competitive end-to-end services, including space transportation and logistics, space habitation, equipment accommodation and operations, including an onboard crew. 

Orbital Reef is expected to be operational in 2027 (Blue Origin/Sierra Space)

Blue Origin will be focused on Orbital Reef's utility systems, large-diameter core modules and reusable heavy-lift New Glenn launch system, while Sierra Space will work on its Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) module, node module and runway-landing Dream Chaser spaceplane for crew and cargo transportation.

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Meanwhile, Boeing will handle Orbital Reef's science module, station operations, maintenance engineering and a Starliner crew spacecraft. Redwire will provide microgravity research, development and manufacturing and payload operations and deployable structures, and Genesis will build a single-person spacecraft for routine operations and tourist excursions. 

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Amazon will provide logistics expertise to help streamline the delivery and inventory management of supplies between Earth and Orbital Reef, and the services and technology tools necessary to support human life and work in space through Amazon Web Services. Arizona State University will provide research advisory services and public outreach.

The "mixed-use business park" is expected to be operational by 2027.

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In December, NASA awarded Blue Origin $130 million through its Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development (CLDP) program to develop Orbital Reef. 

Northrop Grumman also received $125.6 million to develop its own space station concept and Houston, Texas-based NanoRacks received $160 million for its "StarLab" concept designed in collaboration with Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin. 

In addition, Axiom Space will launch several modules to the International Space Station starting in 2024, which will eventually detach to form its own space station. 

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President Biden said in January that the U.S. is committed to supporting the International Space Station through 2030. 

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