Sierra Space is hard at work transforming low-Earth orbit (LEO) from a place for trailblazers and specialists to the next work assignment for private sector professionals. The forthcoming transition marks the start of the Orbital AgeTM, which Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice describes as the next industrial revolution. Specifically, the Orbital Age will soon usher in breakthroughs in science and technology made possible by LEO’s microgravity.
While many advances will focus on benefiting life on Earth, the Orbital Age will also be a crucial step to achieving humanity’s future goals beyond LEO. Some people are surprised to learn that bettering things terrestrially is the single greatest passion driving our team. It may be natural to assume a commercial space company would be mostly concerned with LEO and points beyond, but that isn’t giving space the credit it deserves for already contributing to humankind’s quality of life. Example: research aboard NASA’s space shuttle identified biomarkers to diagnose cancer at its earliest stages. Such breakthroughs are made possible by the unique properties of microgravity enabling scientists to do things they couldn’t in Earthbound labs.
What’s more, the Orbital Age will make a crucial change to humanity’s approach to space-based science. Instead of astronauts employed by NASA and other governmental agencies performing experiments and tests based on the direction of scientists back home, experts will soon live and work in space performing their own research. The intended result? A leap forward in key areas ranging from medicine to materials science. Meanwhile, cutting edge tech like cancer-fighting antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) and novel materials useful in both space and on Earth will be developed with increasing rapidity once the right people can work in space instead of observing from afar.
Already, Sierra Space is building infrastructure to make this possible. The Dream Chaser® spaceplane will be the ideal form of transportation to LEO, first for cargo, then for fledgling space workers. That initial retinue of private sector employees living and working in space will enjoy the comfort of workspaces built into the LIFE Habitat®, a modular space station. These will become the core of the first commercial LEO destination, aka Orbital Reef, a joint venture between principal partners Sierra Space and Blue Origin.
Although these innovations are focused on living and working in LEO, they act as the steppingstone for other destinations, from the moon to Mars to wherever humanity dreams of exploring next. But Sierra Space and its LEO technologies will also contribute to our future beyond LEO in critical ways. First and foremost, our collective knowledge about living and working in space will grow dramatically as the off-world population increases. To put this in perspective, only 300 people have lived aboard the International Space Station (ISS) over its more than 20 years in operation. Consider how much more we’ll know about calling space home (and the office) once we have 300 space workers in LEO at the same time.
Those who will live and work in space in the Orbital Age won’t just be professional astronauts, either. They will be everyday folks. Their experiences will guide future human spaceflight training as venturing to “the final frontier” becomes ever more commonplace. Such preparation will be essential to the success of humanity’s future in space. Only, as we said, it will be led by space workers—private sector professionals versed in science, medicine, and energy—not just government-employed astronauts.
In the coming years, Sierra Space and its LEO tech will also be instrumental in defining the physical conditioning needed before and during an assignment. Already, space workers facilitated the Dream Chaser and LIFE Habitats. More will create procedures for the unexpected. These aren’t necessarily major crisis events, but rather, the challenges we all face on a regular basis. For example, what happens if a space worker develops a toothache? Such preparations don’t have to be negative either. How will space workers celebrate milestones like anniversaries and birthdays off world?
Undoubtedly, the Orbital Age will also present opportunities for Sierra Space’s tech to undergo generational improvements to best support humanity’s spread beyond LEO. The Dream Chaser, a vital component of expanding the private sector into low-Earth orbit, will one day enable expansions to the moon. Additionally, the invaluable operational data generated daily by both the Dream Chaser spaceplane fleet and LIFE Habitats will aid in plans for eventual permanent bases on the moon, then Mars.
The Orbital Age promises a bright future for humanity, both on Earth and in LEO. The incredible knowledge and abilities gained during this exciting time will form the nucleus of humankind’s dreams of going beyond low-Earth orbit. If you’re ready to join Sierra Space and our mission to make space available to all, please research a space career today.