NASA gave Jeff Bezos money to build his Blue Origin Orbital Reef space station

After more than two decades in orbit, NASA is preparing to decommission the International Space Station.This habitable satellite is only allowed to operate until 2024, although the space station’s funding is likely to be Extended to 2028, NASA plans to decommission the International Space Station at the end of this century and find a replacement. Cue Jeff Bezos.

Billionaire aerospace company Blue Origin proposes A new commercial space station Called the orbital reef, it will provide “Mixed use business park“In space. This concept is now supported by NASA. The agency Announce On Thursday, it will award Blue Origin and its partner companies US$130 million for the development of the space station, which NASA hopes will be launched before 2030.

With the help of several other companies including Sierra Space and Boeing, Blue Origin plans to build a satellite Slightly smaller Than the International Space Station, it can accommodate up to 10 people. The design includes desk space, computers, laboratories, gardens and 3D printers. The company stated that the goal is to lease office space to interested parties, including government agencies, researchers, travel agency, Even Film production team.

Blue Origin’s plan is based on the idea that the end of the International Space Station is coming, NASA still Figure out How to accurately remove from the track.Although the space station is helpful for space exploration, Brent Sherwood, senior vice president of Blue Origin, October column Private companies now have the ability to take over most emerging economies in low earth orbit (LEO). Blue Origin is even building a space tug, which is a vehicle for moving goods between different orbits and reportedly can be used Salvage parts from the International Space Station And integrate them into Orbital Reef’s system.

NASA doesn’t mind the company taking over low-Earth orbit. The agency’s first space station, SkyLab, Has only been on orbit for a few months Before NASA let the aircraft descend and disintegrate into the atmosphere. The space agency has Weigh the cancellation of funding for the International Space StationOver the past few years, it has been full of aging hardware. NASA’s investment in orbital reefs is part of the agency’s more than $400 million in funds reserved for the development of new, privately constructed and operated space stations. Commercial LEO destination program.

Ultimately, NASA hopes that it can send astronauts to these space stations instead of paying for the maintenance of the International Space Station.Overall, the plan can save the government more than $1 billion per year.

“This is a technology with a history of more than 20 years. When you expose your infrastructure to radiation, solar weather… things will collapse,” U.S. Air Force Academy of Aeronautics and Astronautics Professor Wendy Whitman Cobb told Recode. “Owning these commercial space stations will be a way for the United States to gain a foothold in low-Earth orbit, while focusing more resources on moon and Mars exploration.”

At the same time, NASA is currently focusing on Artemis Project, An ambitious plan to establish a long-term human presence on the moon.The agency intends to send people to the moon as soon as possible, this is the first time in decades 2025, And hope that the project will eventually become a stepping stone for future exploration of Mars. Private companies, including Blue Origin, are desperately trying to play a role in this prestigious task, especially a lucrative contract to develop key moon landing technology.Space Exploration Technology Corporation Win that contract Earlier this year, the company that prompted Bezos Sue NASA with Lobbying the Senate Overturn the decision. These efforts have yet to bear fruit, so Bezos now seems to turn his attention to the low-Earth orbit economy, where there are more customers and less competition from Elon Musk.

Blue Origin’s Sherwood said at a press conference on Thursday: “The International Space Station program has solved most, if not all, of the problems or challenges to obtain commercial low-orbit destinations.” “This is why we are able to The reason why a commercial space station was developed at a much lower cost than NASA for the first time.”

But we have reason to believe that the orbital reef project may not succeed in the near future—or not at all. Blue Origin has not yet put humans into orbit. This is SpaceX’s Inspiration4 tasks. Blue Origin also List Its New Glenn reusable launch system and Boeing’s Starliner manned spacecraft As a key part of the orbital reef program, neither of these two types of aircraft has yet to fly without problems.

Blue Origin has released the concept map of the Orbital Reef station.
Provided by Blue Origin

Blue Origin is not the only company vying to replace the International Space Station. NASA has also provided funding for two other space station concepts, selected from 11 proposals sent to the agency’s commercial low-orbit destination program. NASA provided $160 million to a company called Nanoracks, which is developing a company called Starry Sky Lab Cooperate with its major shareholder Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin. Starlab can accommodate up to four people at the same time and includes a dedicated research laboratory.Northrop Grumman, an aerospace company that often cooperates with NASA, will also receive US$125.6 million for development Its space station concept, Designed to accommodate four astronauts and last for at least 15 years.

At the same time, NASA has agreed to pay $140 million to the aerospace company Axiom Space to help build At least one module, Or detachable space station components, Will connect to the International Space Station. When the International Space Station ends operations, the module will eventually be split and connected to several other modules to form an independent, fully functional space station. This method should make it easier to transfer the hardware currently installed on the International Space Station to the new car.

A NASA spokesperson described the current moment as the “renaissance of manned spaceflight.” The spokesperson said in an October statement: “As more people fly to space and do more in space flight, it attracts more people to do more in low-Earth orbit. This reflects the growing market that we envisioned when we started NASA’s business plan. The crew plan 10 years ago.”

For NASA, the success of at least one of these companies is also important, and it is possible that more than one company may eventually be sent into orbit. After all, time on the International Space Station is running out, Fault with Outdated technology and equipment Is common. Without the involvement of private companies to establish alternatives, the US government will face the risks of future human existence on the moon and earth, rather than anywhere in between.

Update at 10 am on December 3rd: This story updates NASA’s announcement of funding for several space station proposals, including Blue Origin.

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