A mixed-utilization business park in space may seem like a far-fetched fantasy. Still, Arizona State University is collaborating with Blue Origin as well as other space industry heavyweights to build one by the close of the decade. The pioneering space station, dubbed Orbital Reef, will be based in the low Earth orbit (LEO) and provide the infrastructure to enable new markets in space, such as research, manufacturing, tourism, education, and exploration. And it isn’t only for experts.
“Throughout the twentieth century, space travel has been the domain of the hero, the inaccessible astronaut, the one-of-a-kind individual. But with Orbital Reef, we’ll be able to reach a much larger audience, and they’ll be able to contribute in a variety of ways,” stated Lindy Elkins-Tanton, who works as the vice president in charge of the ASU’s Interplanetary Initiative as well as principal investigator of NASA’s Psyche project. “Now is the time to involve everyone in space exploration.”
Orbital Reef will offer a shared facility that diverse groups can lease and utilize to serve scientific, government, international, industrial, and travel customers, similar to Earth-side business parks. Elkins-Tanton compares it to a town where people from various groups can work independently while interacting with one another. Orbital Reef expands the space economy to a broad range of small firms, projects, and governments by reducing the cost and complexity of working and living in low Earth orbit.
Sierra Space, Genesis Engineering, Boeing, Redwire Space are industry leaders and partners supporting the Orbital Reef mission. The Orbital Reef University Advisory Council, which includes more than a dozen foreign universities, is led by ASU’s Interplanetary Initiative. This group will create norms and conduct standards for ethical research here on the station, offer to consult for people new to space study, channel academic research into Orbital Reef, impact the academic customer interaction aboard the station, and perform STEM outreach and education initiatives.
“At Arizona State University and the Interplanetary Initiative, we’re really excited about bringing universities, government, and the corporate sector together for a positive human space future,” Elkins-Tanton, who works as a professor in the Earth and Space Exploration’s School, said. “We’ve been doing this for a long period, so bringing a network like this together to assist Orbital Reef is just up our alley.”
The Interplanetary Initiative is working to ensure that humans have a bright future in space that helps society both on and off the planet. “Shifting our thinking to consider ourselves as a crew aboard the space vessel — Earth — opens the way to a shared purpose and improved cooperation,” Jessica Rousset, who works as the deputy director in charge of the Interplanetary Initiative, said. The program aims to identify critical requirements for human accomplishment in space and then build interdisciplinary teams to address those requirements. This means gathering insights from humanities and social sciences and traditional STEM sectors and allowing a diverse range of voices to help chart a path to a more equitable future. Furthermore, the project establishes public-private partnerships, allowing any group or business to influence the future of space exploration.