Blue Origin, Sierra Space to Partner on Orbital Reef Outpost

Graphic: Blue Origin/Sierra Space

Blue Origin and Sierra Space will build the Orbital Reef outpost in low-Earth (LEO), the two announced in Dubai yesterday. Blue and Sierra are partnering with Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions, and Arizona State University on the private space station. Each organization brings a unique skillset to the table. Genesis, for example, will contribute a one-person spacecraft dedicated to “routine external operations and tourist excursions.” 

  • The ETA for initial operations is the second half of this decade. 
  • Orbital Reef will fly over Earth in a mid-inclination, 500-km orbit. 

When you’re building something new for space, you must also develop an Earth-based metaphor as a mental shortcut (ie, gas stations in space, space ports, or space tugs). We don’t make the rules; we just report them. 

Orbital Reef’s chosen metaphor? “Mixed-use business park” in space. “Orbital Reef will be the premier mixed-use space station in LEO for commerce, research, and tourism by the end of this decade,” per the project website. Design elements offer some insight into tenants that could one day inhabit Orbit Reef: 

  • Habitation modules will have panoramic Earth-facing windows. Orbital Reef promo materials tout “breathtaking views of our home planet, with 32 vibrant sunrises and sunsets each day.” Perfect for tourists. 
  • Research facilities will have large labs, a suite of standardized interfaces, closed-hatch modules, technical support as needed, and other “end-to-end services.” Leases can be configured for the end customer, ranging from the space “novice” to seasoned LEO operators.  

Another metaphor? Just like Amazon Web Services, Orbital Reef is being marketed as flexible, pay-as-you-go infrastructure. Orbit Reef, its developers suggest, will abstract away the complexity of LEO logistics for end users, be they governments or companies. 

LEO neighbors? Nanoracks, Lockheed, and Voyager announced plans to launch and assemble a private space station—Starlab—last week. Starlab initial operations are targeted for 2027. We have to ask: Which station reaches LEO first: Starlab or Orbital Reef? Will both come online before the International Space Station (ISS) is retired? Drop us a line and chime in with your thoughts.

Related Stories

Vast Inks Deal with The Exploration Company For Future Cargo Missions

The agreement opens the door for Europe to begin commercial and research-based missions in LEO.


Boeing Starliner, Safe At Station, Sprung A Few More Helium Leaks

Even with the leak, there should be enough helium left to allow Starliner to undock and deorbit.


Starlab Adds New Partner, Cargo Flights To Its Space Station Plan

MDA’s space robotics capabilities could help set the new station apart from competitors.


Boeing Found Yet Another Design Flaw in Starliner

“This is not a safety of flight issue,” Boeing Starliner executive Mark Nappi said in a press conference Friday.