NASA pays Jeff Bezos to build its Blue Origin Orbital Reef space station

After more than two decades in orbit, NASA is preparing to retire to the International Space Station. The habitable satellite is only allowed to operate until 2024, and with funding for the space station likely to increase until 2028, NASA plans to dismantle the ISS and find a replacement by the end of the decade. Q Jeff Bezos.

Billionaire’s spaceflight company, Blue Origin, has proposed a new commercial space station called Orbital Reef, which will provide a “mixed-use business park” in space. This idea is now supported by NASA. The agency announced Thursday that it would pay Blue Origin and its partners 130 130 million to develop the space station, which NASA expects to launch before 2030.

With the help of several other organizations, including Sierra Space and Boeing, Blue Origin plans to build a satellite that is slightly smaller than the ISS and will house 10 people. The design includes desk space, computer, laboratory, a garden and 3D printer. The agency said the goal is to lease office space to interested parties, including government agencies, researchers, tourism companies and even movie production crews.

Blue Origin’s plan predicts the end of the ISS, which NASA is still trying to figure out exactly how to move out of orbit. Although space stations have been instrumental in space exploration, Brent Sherwood, senior vice president at Blue Origin, argued in an op-ed in October that private companies now have the power to make the most of the growing economy in low-Earth orbit or LEO. Blue Origin is even building a space tug, a transport vehicle that carries cargo between different orbits, which is said to be usable. Part of the rescue from the ISS And include them in the system of orbital reefs.

NASA doesn’t mind corporate takeovers in low-Earth orbit. The agency’s first space station, Skylab, was in orbit for just a few months before NASA allowed the car to enter and decompose in the atmosphere. The space agency has been weighing in for several years to defend the ISS, which is packed with aging hardware, and NASA’s investment in Orbital Reef is part of a 400 million fund set aside by the agency for new, privately created and managed development. Space stations through its commercial LEO destination program.

Finally, NASA hopes it can send its astronauts to these stations instead of paying to maintain ISS. Overall, the plan could save the government more than 1 billion annually.

“It’s a technology that’s more than 20 years old at the moment. When you expose that infrastructure to radiation, solar weather … things are about to break down, “Wendy Whitman, a professor at the US Air Force’s School of Air and Space Studies, told Kobe Record. “Having these commercial space stations would be a way for the United States to keep its foot in low-Earth orbit, as well as focus more on its resources in search of the moon and Mars.”

Meanwhile, NASA is currently focusing on the Artemis program, an ambitious plan to establish a long-term human presence on the moon. The agency aims to send people to the moon for the first time in decades in 2025 and hopes the project will eventually serve as a stepping stone to explore the future of Mars. Private companies, including Blue Origin, have fought desperately for a role in this prestigious mission, and in particular a lucrative deal to develop landing technology on the main moon. SpaceX won the deal earlier this year, prompting Bezos’ company to sue NASA and lobby the Senate to overturn the decision. Those efforts have not yet paid off, so Bezos now seems to be turning his attention to the economy of low-Earth orbit, which has more customers and less competition than Elon Musk.

“While not everything, most of the problems or challenges that need to be addressed for a commercial LEO destination have already been addressed by the International Space Station program,” Sherwood of Blue Origin told a news conference Thursday. “This explains why NASA is spending for the first time at a much lower cost than we can build a commercial space station.”

But there is reason to believe that the orbital reef project may not be successful in the near future – or at all. Blue Origin has yet to send humans into orbit, a feat SpaceX achieved during the Inspiration4 mission last month. Blue Origin has listed its New Glenn reusable launch system and Boeing’s Starliner crew vehicle as key components of the orbital reef plan, but both have yet to operate a trouble-free spacecraft.

Blue Origin has released a conceptual rendering of what an orbital reef station might look like.
Courtesy Blue Origin

Blue Origin is not the only company that wants to replace ISS. NASA also funded the concept of two other space stations selected from 11 proposals sent to the agency’s commercial LEO destination program. NASA has paid $ 160 million to a company called Nanorax, which is building a space station called Starlab in partnership with its majority owners Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin. Starlab will accommodate up to four people at any one time and will include a special laboratory. Northrop Grumman, a space agency that often collaborates with NASA, will receive $ 125.6 million to develop the space station concept, which is designed to hold four astronauts and last at least 15 years.

At the same time, NASA has already agreed to pay the space agency Axiom Space $ 140 million to build at least one module or detachable space station component. Will be linked to ISS. This module will eventually be cut and connected to several other modules to create a separate, fully functional space station when ISS ceases operations. This method is expected to make it easier to transfer the hardware currently in ISS to a new vehicle.

A NASA spokesman described the current moment as “a renaissance for human spacecraft.” In an October statement, the spokesman said: “As more people fly into space and do more during their spaceflight, this attracts more people to operate in low-Earth orbit, and we reflect on the growing market when NASA launches commercial operations. . The crew program 10 years ago. “

For NASA, it is also important that at least one of these agencies succeeds, and that it is possible that more than one is finally launched into orbit. After all, the ISS is running out of time, where errors and outdated technology and equipment are common. Unless private companies take steps to build an alternative, the US government risks a future where there is a human presence on the moon and on Earth and nowhere in between.

Update, December 3, 10 a.m.: The story has been updated with news that NASA has announced funding awards for proposals for several space stations, including Blue Origin.

This story was first published in the Recode newsletter. Register here So don’t miss the next one!

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *