According to anonymous sources, CNBC reports that the partnership between Blue Origin and Sierra Space to build the private commerical Orbital Reef space station is possibly breaking up.
The companies announced Orbital Reef as a co-led project in 2021, but updates about the project dried up in the past year. The pair of private space companies are now navigating a potential end to the Orbital Reef partnership, according to three people who spoke to CNBC about the situation.
Those people, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss nonpublic matters, emphasized that discussions are ongoing and described the situation as fluid. But other development projects with more significant current contracts – such as Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander and Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spaceplane – have taken higher priority for both companies, those people said.
To readers of Behind the Black, this possible break-up is not a surprise. In June Sierra’s announcement of its own independent space station based on its LIFE modules suggested it had its own doubts about Orbital Reef. Then in August, when Sierra announced a partnership with Redwire to launch LIFE as an independent station, I wrote this:
What struck me about this deal is the shrinking mention of Blue Origin. Originally that company was listed as one of the major players in building this private space station, dubbed Orbital Reef, in which LIFE is only the first module. In the past year however its participation seems less and less significant in every subsequent press release. It appears to still be part of the project, but it is Sierra Space that is leading the effort, and appears to be making things happen.
But then, the track record of Blue Origin is to not make things happen. It could very well be that events are once again overtaking it. Sierra Space can’t wait for Blue Origin to slowly get its act together. It is finding ways to get things done, even if that means Blue Origin gets left behind.
Today’s CNBC story reinforces this conclusion. So does its timing with the removal of Blue Origin’s CEO, Bob Smith, earlier this week. It could be that the failure of Blue Origin in the Orbital Reef partnership was the final straw for Jeff Bezos.
The problem for NASA in this is that the agency awarded a $130 million contract to the Orbital Reef partnership, with Blue Origin listed as the lead contractor which controls the contract. If that partnership ends, that contract must get renegotiated or cancelled, or gets transferred from Blue Origin to Sierra Space (the most likely outcome).
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