Orbital Reef
The proposed Orbital Reef station can be expanded over time by adding more modules, but initially will be about one-third the size depicted here. Credit: Blue Origin

WASHINGTON — Sierra Space and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) have signed an agreement to study collaboration on technologies to support a planned commercial space station.

The two companies announced March 17 a memorandum of understanding regarding collaboration on a “wide range of technologies” that could be used for Orbital Reef, a commercial space station announced last October with Sierra Space as one of the lead partners.

The companies did not elaborate on the technologies they will consider for Orbital Reef under the agreement. MHI does have extensive experience in International Space Station operations as the manufacturer of the Kibo laboratory module, which was installed on the station in 2008. The company also built the HTV cargo spacecraft and H-2 launch vehicle that launched those spacecraft to the station.

“MHI is very excited to collaborate with Sierra Space and use MHI’s technologies and experience earned over years to contribute to the development of Orbital Reef,” said Tomoe Nishigaya, vice president and senior general manager of space systems at MHI, in a statement. “We look forward to further collaboration with Sierra Space as to how MHI’s technologies, products and services may provide better experience for users and customers of the space station.”

Sierra Space’s role in Orbital Reef includes providing inflatable modules called the Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) Habitat. The company’s Dream Chaser vehicle under development will transport cargo and crew to and from the station.

A consortium led by Blue Origin announced Orbital Reef last October. In addition to Blue Origin and Sierra Space, Boeing will provide a science module, CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle and support for station operations, while Redwire Space will handle microgravity research and manufacturing, payload operations and deployable structures.

The team won $130 million from NASA’s Commercial Low Earth Orbit Destinations program in December to support design work on the station, one of three such awards NASA made to stimulate development of commercial space stations that will succeed the International Space Station by the end of the decade.

“We are proud to formalize a long-standing relationship with MHI and look forward to leveraging its considerable technological expertise, as we continue building Orbital Reef and the next generation of space transportation,” Tom Vice, chief executive of Orbital Reef, said in a statement.

The agreement with MHI is the second in as many months Sierra Space has announced with Japanese organizations. Sierra Space announced Feb. 26 an agreement with Kanematsu Corporation and Oita Prefecture to study the feasibility of using Oita Airport in Japan as a landing site for the Dream Chaser vehicle.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...