Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin announced Monday that it plans to launch a space station that will house up to 10 people in the second half of the decade as the race to commercialize the cosmos intensifies.
Orbital Reef, described in a press release as a mixed-use business park in space that will support microgravity research and manufacturing, is a joint venture with commercial space company Sierra Space and is supported by Boeing and Arizona State University.
“NASA and other space agencies have been developing orbital space travel and space habitation for over sixty years, preparing us for commercial launch this decade,” said Brent Sherwood, managing director of Blue Origin.
“We will expand access, reduce costs, and provide all the services and amenities necessary to normalize space travel.”
The private outpost is one of several planned in the coming years as NASA ponders the future of the International Space Station after the 2020s.
The space agency has a contract with a company called Axiom to develop a space station that will first dock with the ISS and later fly freely.
Last week, space company Nanoracks, in partnership with Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin, announced a planned space station that will be operational by 2027 and known as the Starlab.
According to a datasheet published by Blue Origin, Orbital Reef will soar slightly above the ISS at an altitude of 500 kilometers (310 miles), with residents experiencing 32 sunrises and sunsets per day.
It will support 10 people in a volume of 830 cubic meters (30,000 cubic feet), which is slightly smaller than the ISS, in futuristic modules with huge windows.
Completed in 2011, the ISS has long been a symbol of US-Russian space cooperation, although Moscow recently made ambiguous about the future of the partnership.
It is currently classified as safe until 2028 and new administrator Bill Nelson has said he hopes it will be until 2030 before NASA wants the commercial sector to be strengthened and replaced.
Blue Origin is currently only able to fly into suborbital space with its New Shepard rocket, which blew Star Trek actor William Shatner above the atmosphere earlier this month.
Other projects planned include New Glenn, a rocket that can put cargo and people into orbit, and a lunar lander – though it lost the lunar contract to rival SpaceX and is suing NASA for reversing that decision.
Bezos, the second richest man in the world thanks to e-commerce giant Amazon, founded Blue Origin in 2000 with the aim of one day building floating artificial gravity space colonies where millions of people work and live and the earth from pollution will be liberated.
These colonies would be based on a design by Gerard O’Neill, the physics professor at Bezos at Princeton, and consist of counter-rotating cylinders that create artificial gravity.