Orbital Reef Passes Design Review

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Orbital Reef, a commercial space station under development by a consortium of companies, has completed an initial design review as part of a NASA award.

Blue Origin and Sierra Space, the main partners in the project, announced on April 5 that Orbital Reef had completed a review of system requirements. The review was one of the first steps in a Space Act agreement funded to the tune of $130 million by NASA and awarded to companies through its Commercial Low Earth Orbit Destinations, or CLD, program.

The review examined the design of Orbital Reef as well as its technical specifications, planned operations and the feasibility of development plans. Sierra Space said the review did not result in any changes to the station’s design.

The review “is an important step towards the commercialization of low Earth orbit,” Brent Sherwood, senior vice president of advanced development programs for Blue Origin, said in a statement. “What’s particularly exciting is how the Orbital Reef team combines NASA’s goals with the needs of others to promote new commercial markets.”

Blue Origin and Sierra Space announced Orbital Reef in October 2021 as part of a partnership with Boeing, Redwire Space and several other companies and organizations. The station will eventually include a series of laboratory and living modules. Blue Origin will develop the station’s core modules and provide launch services on its New Glenn rocket, while Sierra Space will offer its LIFE expandable modules and Dream Chaser vehicle for cargo and crew transport.

Orbital Reef was one of three proposals to win NASA’s CLD awards. A team that includes Nanoracks and Lockheed Martin received $160 million to work on its Starlab station, while Northrop Grumman received $125.6 million for a station based on its Cygnus cargo spacecraft and the HALO module it is developing for NASA’s Lunar Gateway.

In addition to the CLD awards, Axiom Space has a $140 million contract with NASA to use a port on the International Space Station to attach a series of commercial modules that will form the core of a future autonomous space station. NASA expects one or more of these commercial space stations to be ready by the end of this decade so that the ISS can be retired in 2030.

“We’re moving as fast as we can,” Steve Lindsey, chief strategy officer at Sierra Space, said during a panel at the Goddard Memorial Symposium on March 25. “We don’t want to have a gap like we’ve had with the returning crew for the past decade.

NASA’s commercial LEO development effort has been awarded $101.5 million for 2022, the amount requested by the agency. NASA is requesting $224 million for the program in its 2023 budget proposal released March 28.

“We are building a platform in space to benefit life on Earth and forming a catalyst for the disruptive technological breakthroughs and innovations that will shape the world of tomorrow,” said Tom Vice, CEO of Sierra Space, in a statement. “It is clear that having reached this key program milestone and the maturity of the system we are building with Blue Origin, we are one step closer to realizing this vision.”

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