Blue Origin, the space company owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is teaming up with other firms to build a space station in Earth orbit. The group announced its plans on Monday, revealing the latest concept for a privately built orbital outpost that could replace or complement the International Space Station.
The influx of private space station proposals comes as NASA seeks a replacement for the 20-year-old, $100 billion laboratory in space, which is showing signs of its age. Whether any of the low-Earth orbit concepts will be ready to house astronauts by the time funding for the International Space Station lapses around 2030 is unclear, and depends largely on the funding NASA is able to get from Congress. The agency plans to allocate up to $400 million to private space companies to kick-start construction, eventually partnering with private operators the way it now relies on companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX to get cargo and astronauts to and from the I.S.S.
The proposal by Blue Origin and its partners, called Orbital Reef, only exists in digital animations and drawings, and executives said it could be built by the end of the decade. It will have competition, from the very real Tiangong station that China expects to finish as soon as next year, as well as other proposed private outposts. Lockheed Martin and Nanoracks, a firm that facilitates research on the I.S.S., unveiled last week their own space station called Starlab. And Axiom Space, another entrant, has the go-ahead to launch the beginnings of a free-flying base that will first attach to the International Space Station.
The Orbital Reef project is expected to draw hefty financial backing from Mr. Bezos, who has committed to spending $1 billion per year of his fortune on Blue Origin, and has described a goal of creating the conditions for millions of people to live and work in space. The company, founded in 2000, has launched customers on short, up-and-down tourist flights to the edge of space. But it has not yet achieved other goals, such as building an orbital rocket or winning a NASA contract to build a lunar lander for astronauts.
Source : https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/25/science/space-station-blue-origin-sierra.html448