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The Next Great Innovations Will Come from Private Industry in Space

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Post 5 Orbital Reef

Technological breakthroughs and outer space naturally go hand in hand. American ingenuity in the 20th century led to astonishing advances that helped humankind make its first great leap into space. This feat was all the more impressive when we consider the computing power available at the time—incredibly limited by today’s standards.

To put this in perspective, consider the modern iPhone. It is a whopping 1,00,000 times more powerful than the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) used by the Apollo 11 mission crew to navigate to the Moon. But innovation isn’t only about getting to space, it also occurs because of our experience traveling beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

Accordingly, Sierra Space believes future innovations benefiting us all will be driven by private industry living and working in space. There’s precedent for this assertion. NASA has invented or popularized many technologies that have helped generations of people who prefer to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground. A partial list includes ear thermometers, invisible braces for teeth straightening, scratch resistant lens, and memory foam.

Some common products associated with the space program, like Velcro fasteners, were not invented by NASA, but only became popular after their successful usage in the cosmos. For example, NASA’s contributions to society often take the form of refined versions of the tech that helps keep astronauts safe in space, such as self-healing aluminum and fireproof suit material that have saved the lives of countless firemen and women around the world.

Some of the most exciting developments from the space program in recent decades focus on how to keep people alert and healthy—whether they are on a deep space voyage or living on Earth. Already, NASA has pioneered advancements in water purification using radiant energy. This tech is just as valuable in Africa as it is on the Moon.

Additionally, the agency has developed advancements using LED lighting in applications as diverse as growing plants in space. Keeping with the theme of horticulture, NASA has been a leader in the development of vertical farming, a tremendous breakthrough in indoor growing.

And yet for all these advancements, the average person is left wanting more. Where will the next discoveries come from? Sierra Space agrees with Peter Drucker, founder of modern management, who once said: “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” The “something new,” in our opinion, is making space available to everyone—especially through private innovations in space exploration technologies

Just as it took the vision of Steve Jobs and the best and brightest minds at Apple to reimagine computing to be a product available to everyday consumers with the Apple desktop—and later an important part of our daily life with the iPhone—it will be the private sector harnessing the unique properties of zero-G environments to dream up life changing advances in food, science, medicine, and even manufacturing. The challenge is making it possible for private sector organizations to safely live in space and effectively accomplish R&D and manufacturing off-world—a challenge Sierra Space is taking head on as part of the Orbital Reef project.

Orbital Reef is making the dream of working in the stars a viable reality by building the first “mixed use business park in space.” The project features Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE™) habitats for private sector experts to live and collaborate in space, with commercial space transportation to and from Earth facilitated by the Dream Chaser® spaceplane.

Perhaps the greatest boon for future innovation enabled by Sierra Space and the Orbital Reef project is that private sector organizations needn’t worry about developing the skills and tech to not only safely travel to space but also live and work there. Sierra and its partners like Blue Origin, will provide travel and station crew, along with the training necessary to thrive in space. The real question is what kind of innovations will the Orbital Reef produce? The answer is only limited by our imagination.

The Orbital Reef will likely empower the next generation of plant-based foods that will not only provide nutrition for bases on the Moon and Mars, but also help to feed the hungry back here on Earth. What’s more, by offering spacious accommodation to Earth’s culinary pioneers, we’ll soon have more nutritious foods both resistant to disease and able to withstand harsh conditions. Leaps in all sorts of other technologies can be expected. Already, plans are underway to develop unprecedented health advances, especially in oncology, abetted by space’s unique microgravity conditions.

This begs all kinds of relevant queries. What will happen when Apple or other leading computer companies put an engineering team in space? Will the next miracle medical treatment be pioneered by doctors and researchers working in a microgravity environment to produce results not possible on Earth? These and other questions will soon be answered by Sierra Space as we stride towards the most ambitious goal in the aerospace industry: building the platform for humanity’s next great leap into space.