Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin unveiled Monday its plan for a private space station called “Orbital Reef,” which it will build in partnership with multiple space companies and expects to deploy between 2025 and 2030.
Blue Origin describes the Orbital Reef station, which would be habitable for up to 10 people, as a “mixed use business park” in space — as well as capable of “exotic hospitality” for space tourists.
Orbital Reef is designed to have almost as much habitable volume as the International Space Station.
The company’s primary partner for the station is Sierra Space, a subsidiary of aerospace contractor Sierra Nevada Corporation, with the team also including Boeing, Redwire Space and Genesis Engineering.
“We’re just beginning to understand the tremendous implications that microgravity research, development and manufacturing can mean, for not only for exploring the universe and making discoveries but improving life on Earth,” Redwire executive vice president Mike Gold told CNBC.
Shares of Redwire Space were halted temporarily by the New York Stock Exchange after surging following the announcement. The stock jumped as much as 40% in trading, but gave up most of the gains to finish the day up 8% at $13.14.
Blue Origin will provide the space station’s “utility systems” and “core modules,” and it plans to use its New Glenn rocket to launch Orbital Reef.
Sierra Space is contributing its LIFE habitat (Large Integrated Flexible Environment; essentially an inflatable space station module) and plans to use its Dream Chaser spacecraft to transport cargo and crew to-and-from the station.
Redwire Space, which went public in September, will run the station’s payload operations and build deployable structures. Redwire also plans to use Orbital Reef for microgravity research, development and manufacturing.
Boeing will build Orbital Reef’s science-focused module and run the station’s operations, as well as conduct maintenance engineering. The aerospace giant also plans to utilize its Starliner capsule for transporting crew and cargo to the station.
Genesis Engineering will contribute its “Single Person Spacecraft” system, which the company describes as an alternative to a spacesuit.
In a conference call with reporters, executives representing the companies of the team declined to specify how much each expect to invest in Orbital Reef.
Blue Origin vice president Brent Sherwood said the team is not going to give “a specific number” on how much the Orbital Reef space station will cost, adding that the financial numbers are commercially sensitive.
Bezos’ company has been looking at building a space station for more than a year, as CNBC previously reported, and earlier this month added a number of job postings for its “Orbital Destinations” team.
Bezos’ vision: Living and working in space
Orbital Reef fits squarely at the center of Bezos’ vision for Blue Origin, which is to get to where “millions of people are living and working in space to benefit Earth,” especially by moving “industries that stress Earth into space.”
Bezos has personally increased his involvement at Blue Origin, after he stepped down as the CEO of Amazon this summer. While the company has had success with its suborbital New Shepard rocket — having flown two successful crewed flights to date — Blue Origin has come under scrutiny due to soaring employee turnover and allegations of safety issues, as well as a “toxic” work culture, by former employees.
Blue Origin has teamed up with other major space companies before, having partnered with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper to build a crewed lunar lander for NASA’s HLS program.
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