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NASA again approves design concept for Orbital Reef commercial space station

Proposed Orbital Reef space station

Capitalism in space: Sierra Space announced today that NASA has completed, apparently for the second time, the design review for the Orbital Reef space station that the company wants to build in partnership with Blue Origin and others, thus allowing the actual design of the station to begin.

This press release announcement, on August 22, 2022, is a bit puzzling, as Sierra Space made almost the exact same announcement in April 2022. What, did NASA have to do this twice? Did issues come up after the first approval? Was the agency reviewing different things?

Regardless, NASA as usual is slowing things down considerably. Sierra Space and Blue Origin, the primary partners in this private space station project, first announced it in October 2021. It took the government almost a year to simply approve the basic concept so that the design phase could finally begin. At this pace it will be 2090 before the station is launched.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Edward

    Despite the similarities in the names of the reviews, they are not redundant. The first reviewed the system requirements, making sure that the Orbital Reef team understands what NASA wants for using Orbital Reef, and this August one reviews the overall design, making sure that the team is designing what NASA wants.

    I like that these two organizations are working closely together. I once was designing an incubator without much supervision, and I continually worried that I may not be designing what I was supposed to make, what the customer expected. Having that much autonomy is wonderful when making something you want, independent of the boss, but when you are building something for the customer then it is better to have close communication to assure that everyone agrees to what is made. I got the most accolades from my bosses when I worked closest with the customer.

    I am not concerned that this is holding up construction. It is similar in pace to several space projects I worked on in the past. The biggest problem that we really have is the loss of Bigelow Aerospace, which already could build a space habitat quickly.

    Under normal circumstances, there would also be a preliminary design review to assure that the design does what NASA wants for close to the quoted price, but NASA is buying service from this space station, not buying the space station itself, and Orbital Reef may choose to include facilities in addition to what NASA wants, and this may cost more than NASA pays. Thus there also may not be a critical design review, a review done before much metal get cut or bent (or “printed,” in these days of additive manufacturing). NASA’s intention is for these space stations to have may customers, other than NASA, so that a strong commercial space industry is founded and sustained. NASA wants to foster a space economy that is far greater than NASA can afford on its own and that produces items that NASA would never produce.

    The beauty of all this is that government control over access to space and government control over what is done in space is coming to an end. For sixty years (longer if you include sounding rockets), government controlled space, and all we got from it was what government wanted. Soon, We the People will control space, and we will finally get what we want, what had been promised back in the 1950s.

  • Rockribbed1

    Without BE2, the usefulness of Blue Origin and Lex Luthor is extremely limited.

  • Edward: as usual, your replies are a learning opportunity.

    I like the term ‘bending tin’, and expect (or, hope) that it will last long into the future. An anachronistic term that connects us to our past, yet still describes the process.

  • GaryMike


    “…government control over what is done in space is coming to an end…”

    Governments have contractually obligated themselves to each other in those areas of near space where damages result in litigation for compensation. I take that to mean, if you are in orbit about Earth, Earth has jurisdiction.

    Fair enough. No longer in direct Earth orbit — Freedom!

    The space faring nations I believe will attempt to extend ‘Laws of the Seas” conventions into space to extend government influence.

    There are no seas in space. Only settlers distancing themselves from carpetbaggers.

  • Dave Walden

    Edward: Conceptually, how on earth could anyone argue with your point??!!

    Contextually, it is impossible not to! “2090” is optimistic!

  • Edward

    Blair Ivey,
    Thank you. I suppose “bending tin” is similar to saying “tin can.” It has been a few years since our cans have been made of tin.

    Lack of control does not mean lack of law. For a century, you could hop into your can and drive to work, all in a lawful environment (in most places in America), but only recently could you hop into a Dragon and fly to orbit. Soon you won’t need government permission to go to a space station to do work (or maybe even to have a vacation).

    Dave Walden,
    I’ve been in the space engineering business too long to be that pessimistic (I’m pessimistic on other topics, though), and I think even Robert believes he was exaggerating. It is clear to me, however, that there is optimism to the current schedules that NASA and the commercial companies are working to, and they assume that there will not be big difficulties along the way. Problems will occur, and schedules will almost certainly be delayed, but not by that many years. Unlike government projects, these commercial companies have incentive to get on orbit sooner rather than later.

  • Edward wrote, “Unlike government projects, these commercial companies have incentive to get on orbit sooner rather than later.”

    Unless you happen to be talking about Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin. This very strange company does not seem to operate at a pace designed to make money. Instead, it moves like it is Bezos’ weekend hobby, slow and with little urgency.

  • Star Bird

    We need a Space Prison to send Biden and all those involved as well as Clinton and Obama to for life terms

  • Edward

    Robert Zimmerman wrote: “Unless you happen to be talking about Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin.

    I give new management eighteen months to turn things around. Bezos got personally involved last summer, so if Blue Origin is still in slow motion at the end of this year then I will have to concede that he is not serious (or successful) about being a competitor in the space business. This would be almost as disappointing as losing Bigelow Aerospace. Thank goodness that Beck is serious with his Rocket Lab. We will have to see how others fare, but I am already prepared to give up on Northrop Grumman.

    Space is hard and challenging. How many rockets did SpaceX blow up trying to do it? My recollection is they lost three Falcon 1s before succeeding. I lost count on the Falcon 9s lost trying to land on a barge. They blew up three or four Starships trying to land in a way no one would have believed (and maybe some still don’t believe). That is tenacity like we hardly ever see.

    Rocket lab lost three rockets out of 29 tries, but none recently. They failed to catch a returning booster, and I would still think it impossible if they hadn’t succeeded on their test. Now I just think it to be improbable, which makes it easier for those who do the impossible on a regular schedule.

    There may be others who are serious but behind the curve. I still have hopes for Bezos and his team.

  • GaryMike observed: “There are no seas in space.”

    You wound me, sir. One of the more inspiring quotes from the nascent space expansion:

    “We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.”

    President John F. Kennedy Rice University 12 September 1962

    Back when even Democrats believed in America.

  • sippin_bourbon

    The analogy of the Space as an infinite sea predates even Kennedy.
    And it is not just because of romanticism.

    However, to the question of Maritime law applying in space.. Maritime law applies anytime you are not in your own territory, and hence people have assumed it applies in space. That is not a strictly accurate interpretation shared by all, however.

    As far as the US Federal code is concerned, it applies on waterways and the oceans, and is divided as such (inland as demarcated on charts and international, which is everywhere else). There are a few more specifics that do not apply to the conversation. I have read that countries apply SOLAS, Safety Of Life At Sea to space, and that Spacefaring nations have accepted that the concept of SOLAS extends to to space travelers. However, there is nothing in the convention itself that states this. I think the general idea is that if any nations space farers are in trouble, everyone will assist as able to preserve life.

    Governments are going to attempt to extend their control always. If that means finding unique ways to say that this person or this group is not allowed to go to space, while the other may, they will. They cannot help themselves. Because that is what governments do: interfere with or ignore equally.

    If something looks too free, they will fight tooth and nail to put a reign on it.

  • sippin_bourbon

    And if anyone is wondering, the government quote is a paraphrase from Malcom Reynolds.

  • GaryMike

    Blair Ivey,

    “We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.”

    JFK was a navy man. Of course his metaphors would be somewhat biased.

    I prefer the metaphor of prairie wagon schooners tacking toward new frontiers, because they can, no longer having to participate against their will in what they’ve voluntarily left behind.


    For their own progress. The rest can fend for themselves according to their own abilities.

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