NASA is preparing to retire the ISS. It has been in orbit for more than two decades. ISS only has permission to operate until 2024. The funding for the space station could likely be extended till 2028. NASA plans to decommission the space station and find a replacement by the end of the decade.
Blue Origin, the spaceflight company, has released its proposal for a new commercial space station called Orbital Reef. Along with many other companies, Blue Origin plans to build a satellite that’s is slightly smaller than ISS. It will house up to 1o people. The design includes 3D printers, a garden, laboratories, computers. The purpose is to lease out office space to interested parties and bring the mixed-use business park concept into orbit. The interested parties include the movie production crew, tourism companies, government agencies, researchers.
The company’s plan is predicated on the idea that the end is coming for the ISS. NASA is still trying to find out how to remove it from orbit. The ISS has been helpful for space exploration. According to Blue Origin, senior vice president, private companies now can take over much of the burgeoning economy in low-Earth orbit or LEO. The company is even building a transport vehicle, a space tug. The transport vehicle will move cargo between different orbits and could be used to salvage parts from the ISS and incorporate them in the new space station.
NASA is ok with the fact that corporate taking of low-Earth orbit. Before NASA let the vehicle descend and decompose into the atmosphere, the agency’s 1st space station was only in orbit for a few months. Through its Commercial LEO Destinations program, the space agency has set aside up to $400 million to fund a privately built new space station. NASA is hoping that astronauts can be sent to these stations instead of paying attention to maintaining ISS.
NASA is currently focusing on the Artemis program. The purpose of the mission is to establish a long-term human presence on the moon. Many private companies have fought for a role in this mission and a lucrative contract to develop pivotal moon landing technology. Earlier this year, SpaceX won that contract, and this promoted Blue Origin company to sue NASA. Those efforts have yet to bear fruit. Now the company is focusing on the low-Earth orbit economy where there are more customers and less competition from SpaceX.
The biggest question here is whether the project will be successful or not. The company still hasn’t launched humans into orbit. The company also lists its Boeings Starliner crew vehicle and New Glenn reusable launch system as the pivotal parts of the Orbital Reef plan. But both vehicals have yet to conduct a free space flight. It is the only company willing to replace ISS. About 12 other companies have already sent their space proposals. For NASA, it’s also important that at least one of these companies succeeds. The time is running ut on ISS where outdated equipment and technology and malfunctions are common.