Blue Origin Grounds Commercial Space Station Plans

Blue Origin is expected to back out of plans to build a commercial space station in conjunction with corporate partners.

(Photo by Blue Origin)

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It’s one small step back for Blue Origin, and possibly one giant leap back for NASA.

Jeff Bezos’ space venture is expected to back out of plans to build a commercial space station in conjunction with corporate partners as well as backing from the US government, according to a Reuters report on Tuesday. It’s yet another instance of the company seeming lost in space.

Ground Control to Major Jeff

Blue Origin first announced plans to build a low-orbit private space station — dubbed “Orbital Reef” — with fellow private space company Sierra Space in 2021. And soon after, NASA awarded Blue Origin a $130 million contract to design a space station, with Sierra serving as a subcontractor.

The pair quickly unveiled plans for a “mixed-use business park in space,” featuring a microgravity lab available for both public and private research as well as spaces for tourists, with plans to launch the first pieces into orbit in 2027. But earlier this year, Blue Origin reassigned most of the Orbital Reef team to other projects, sources told Reuters, as bigger dreams and fatter government contracts pulled focus away from the venture:

  • Most notably, Blue Origin has shifted focus toward creating Blue Moon, an astronaut moon lander which allowed the company to win a $3.4 billion government contract. Blue Origin said it plans to invest “well north” of that amount into the program as well.
  • Other members of the Orbital Reef team have been reassigned to a top secret satellite mobility program, sources told Reuters.

Don’t worry, penny pinchers — the government has only paid Blue Origin $24 million so far for its work on Orbital Reef, a NASA spokesperson told CNBC last week.

Cost in Space: The likely demise of the project does have some US officials worried, Reuters reports. That’s because the International Space Station — a joint effort between the US, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada — is due to be retired in 2030. With no replacement, that would leave China’s national space station as the dominant hub for low-orbit research and tourism. Even in space, someone can hear you scream “national security!”