Getting things into orbit around the earth is hard. And expensive. The privatization trend in space technologies has been ongoing for a number of years, and new technologies are reducing costs significantly.
A few weeks ago Sierra Space was joined by Blue Origin, Boeing and several other organizations in releasing details of their plan to deliver a private space station by the end of the decade. They have named it "Orbital Reef". This is the third announced commercial space station.
The International Space Station (ISS) has been continuously occupied since year 2000. The current plans are for the ISS to continue operations until at least 2024 and possibly until 2028.
The interesting thing about Orbital Reef that caught my attention was that it would be an "off-world mixed use business park." According to the announcement, Orbital Reef "could be used for many commercial purposes, including scientific research, manufacturing, media, entertainment and tourism". It will be able to host 10 people.
Future space stations such as Orbital Reef will face many challenges. One of those is "space junk". Just this week the astronauts on ISS had to shelter inside crew return vehicles for possible ISS evacuation after a Russian missile test against a defunct satellite created new debris. This has long been a problem for orbiting space stations and satellites.
Some of the companies involved with Orbital Reef are AFT customers. AFT software has been designed since the beginning to handle space applications with the ability to handle zero-g and variable-g levels of pipe systems (see for example Rockets are Pumping Systems Too - The Aerospace Heritage of AFT and Secret Variable-g Feature in AFT Software? Yep, and It is Now Visible to All) and the ability to model heat transfer (which is often critical in aerospace pipe system applications). It will be cool to see how our software helps with the design of these new systems.