Private space stations will soon be in orbit

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On october 21st a consortium led by Lockheed Martin, one of America’s biggest aerospace companies, announced plans to build a permanently crewed commercial space station called Starlab, and launch it into orbit around Earth by 2027. Not to be outdone, on the 25th, Blue Origin, a firm that is Jeff Bezos’s ticket into space, unveiled plans for a yet more ambitious effort. Orbital Reef, pictured above as an artist’s impression, is a joint venture with (among others) Lockheed’s competitor Boeing. It will host up to ten people and will serve, as Blue Origin put it, as a “mixed-use business park”. The hope is that this orbiting industrial estate will open by the end of the decade.

Private-enterprise missions to orbit are not new. Mr Bezos’s rival Elon Musk, for example, has been offering them, via his rocketry firm SpaceX, for several years. But these two projects, if they succeed, will be on a far grander scale. Eye-catching though they are, however, they are not alone. Several other firms, egged on in some cases by nasa, that country’s space agency, have similar ideas. The firms’ owners hope to make money. nasa hopes to save America’s amour propre. And, acting together, these motives seem likely, some time this decade, to result in the first real settlement of outer space by private enterprise.

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