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Orbital Reef partnership between Blue Origin and Sierra Space in trouble

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).

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

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"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Edward

    Sierra Space has an interest in space stations orbiting the Earth. Without space stations, there will be few customers for the Dream Chaser spacecraft, either the manned version or the cargo version.

    NASA has an interest in multiple commercial space stations, as it gives them not only redundancy but competitors to improve their services and products. It is conceivable that each commercial space station will specialize in an area of space exploration or space utilization. This benefits NASA and all other users, too.

    I expect that the Orbital Reef space station will find new partners or will proceed with the partners they can keep. It would be a shame to lose one of the commercial space stations so soon in the competition.

  • pzatchok

    Its sad the Blue Origin has failed in so many of its expectations.

    I no longer think they are serious about space at all.

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