Blue Origin, a spaceflight company controlled by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’, along with partners Boeing and Sierra Space, plan to build a commercially developed, owned, and operated space station in low Earth orbit. The project is being called Orbital Reef and is envisioned as a mixed-use business park roughly 300 miles above the surface of the Earth. The International Space Station orbits about 250 miles above Earth.
The Orbital Reef station is expected to open the next chapter of human space exploration and development by facilitating the growth of a vibrant ecosystem and business model for the future. The new station is backed by other space industry leaders and teammates including Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions, and Arizona State University.
Brent Sherwood, Senior Vice President of Advanced Development Programs for Blue Origin, says, “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. 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.”
Designed to open multiple new markets in space, Orbital Reef will provide anyone with the opportunity to establish their own address on orbit. This unique destination will offer research, industrial, international, and commercial customers the cost competitive end-to-end services they need including space transportation and logistics, space habitation, equipment accommodation, and operations including onboard crew. The station is planned to start operating in the second half of this decade.
Orbital Reef will be operated as a “mixed use business park” in space including shared infrastructure to efficiently support the proprietary needs of diverse tenants and visitors. Features of the project include human-centered space architecture with world-class services and amenities that is inspiring, practical, and safe. Orbital Reef will provide the essential infrastructure needed to scale economic activity and open new markets in space. The open system architecture allows any customer or nation to link up and scale to support demand. Module berths, vehicle ports, utilities, and amenities all increase as the market grows.
The team behind Orbital Reef say its business model makes it easy for customers and is strategically designed to support a diverse portfolio of uses. The team has all the services and systems to meet the needs of emergent customers, including researchers, manufacturers, and visitors. Orbital Reef offers standard interfaces at all levels – locker, rack, and module. Seasoned space agencies, high-tech consortia, sovereign nations without space programs, media and travel companies, funded entrepreneurs and sponsored inventors, and future-minded investors all have a place on Orbital Reef.
Whether Orbital Reef becomes the premier mixed-use space station in low Earth orbit for commerce, research, and tourism by the end of this decade, as planners envision remains to be seen. But given the lofty trajectory Amazon and Bezos are riding, it would be smart to consider the planned space endeavor as having potential for commercial real estate.