Blue Origin has proposed repurposing the spent stages of the company’s New Glenn rocket as modules for commercial habitats. The proposal was part of a study ordered by NASA to explore the potential of commercialisation human spaceflight in low-Earth orbit.
In August 2018, NASA selected 13 companies to conduct studies on the potential of commercial human spaceflight in low-Earth orbit. Among industry stalwarts like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, the fledgeling launch services provider Blue Origin was selected.
Earlier today, NASA published the results of the 13 studies and Blue Origin’s proposal to repurpose a rocket’s upper stage as a commercial habitat module was, without doubt, a highlight. The company proposed an ambitious three-year “Path to LEO Commercial Habitat”. The plan begins in year one with a concept design and in just three years has teams conducting human flight certification reviews in orbit.
At this stage, the concept is still a rough proposal and does not include how exactly Blue Origin plans to retrofit a spent stage in orbit. Without an orbital platform like the space shuttle, any kind of sustained work by humans in orbit would be difficult to achieve. Viable approaches could be to use a robotic alternative or constructing stages with much of the hardware already installed.
In addition to Blue Origin’s out-of-the-box approach, other proposals examined the commercialisation of the International Space Station and the construction of more traditional commercial habitats. It is yet unclear whether or not NASA plans to assist with the pursuit of any of the 13 proposals.