Geeking Science: R is for Reef and Real Estate Race

Artist’s illustration of Orbital Reef, a private space station project involving Blue Origin, Sierra Space, and a number of other partners. (Image credit: Sierra Space/Blue Origin)

The International Space Station (ISS) first launched component settled in orbit in 1998 with residents moving in November 2000. “The station has been continuously occupied for 22 years … having surpassed the previous record of 9 years and 357 days held by the Mir space station.” (Wikipedia, International Space Station). The International part of the title has proven well-used with the support of five space agencies: NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe) and CSA (Canada).

The original plan for decommission was a mere 15 years (2015), but it has been extended several times. Even so, the extensions can’t continue forever. The wear and tear of long-term use, the leaks and holes, are adding up. (Inverse) Also in the mix in the Russia’s shenanigans in Ukraine, and the world hitting them with sanctions. The aggressor might pull out their funding early, previously planned to continue to 2024, in protest of getting called on the carpet for their actions.

2031 is becoming the hard-fast de-orbit date, with 2030 being when the shop will close up for the safety of all involved and the lights will be turned off.

The ISS will join all the Salyut stations (seven from 1971-1991 USSR), Skylab (1973-1979 USA), Mir (1986-2001 Russia), and the two Tiangong (2011-2019 China) in retirement. Once the station lands in Point Nemo, only Tiangong 3 will remain in orbit (2021-present, China).

Unless something changes. And boy-o-boy, are changes in the plans.

Several countries are thinking of creating their own stations.

But the first in line to deliver might be Amazon.

Well, Blue Origin (wholly owned by Jeff Brazos) (Cuofano 2022).

Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada Corporation plan to create a space station for commercial space activities and space tourism. The news brief for the plans released in October 2021, and the plans have been continuing apace, including approval by NASA.

The title for the planned station is Orbital Reef.

Some of the conversations on building Orbital Reef include using the ISS as a jumping point. Basically a port to work from.

Russia has been lifting new modules up for a Russian Orbital Service Station (ROSS) – official launch date of 2025. America and the international community of the ISS (without Russia), likewise, are working on Axiom Station and Lunar Gateway for science activities and as part of the Artemis program for lunar landings and human missions to Mars. All these government space stations, as well as several commercial ventures, are hoped to be online before 2030. The Orbital Reef is the most ambitious with a crew size of 10; most of the others are aiming for 4.

NASA’s Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development (CLDP) program aims at getting AT LEAST one commercial outpost up and running before the ISS lights go out. Orbital Reef, Starlab (by NanoRacks) and an unnamed concept (by Northrop Grumman) all have received grants after the initial plans have been reviewed and approved by NASA. (Wall)

I’m highly entertained by Orbital Reef being referred to a “turn-key” location, where a (space) business park can be scaled to serve markets. Like one can just go to a relator and state your needs, and they hand you the key to a building.

The large crew of ten for Orbital Reef is aimed at supporting the renters, including a possible space hotel. “We sell only the utilities and services you need to sustain your business: power, cooling, high-bandwidth communication, information and physical security, robotic services, technician attention, stowage, and logistics.” More can be found on this sci-fi, soon to be science fact, location at

Planning on filming a commercial that needs microgravity? They got you covered. Need microgravity to create the next microchip? Think Orbital Reef.

Key to the dream of the Orbital Reef is Dream Chaser, a pint-sized reusable space plane. Sierra Space hopes to demonstrate viability in a February 2023 launch aboard the ULA Vulcan Centaur booster rocket.

Tons of prep-work and moving parts are in play for 2023 with 2024 being the year of heavy lifting into orbit as things get off the production line. Be interesting to see who wins the low-Earth orbit real estate race.


Clark, Stephen. “Blue Origin and Sierra Space team up for commercial space station.” Spaceflight Now. October 25, 2021. – last viewed 12/21/2022.

Foust, Jeff. “Orbital Reef passes NASA review.” SpaceNews. August 22, 2022. – last viewed 12/21/2022.

Cuofano, Gennaro. “Who owns Blue Origin?” FourWeekMBA. September 30, 2022. – last viewed 12/21/2022.

Inverse. “NASA Plans to Obliterate the International Space Station – Here’s How.” (undated). – last viewed 12/21/2022.

Kirk, Benny. “Space Shuttle vs Dream Chaser: Can This Pint Sized Space Plane Really Replace an Icon?” autoevolution. October 21, 2022. – last viewed 12/21/2022.

Orbital Reef. (website, undated). – last viewed 12/21/2022.

The Planetary Society. “Missing Briefings: Blue Origin wants to build its own space station.” The Downlink. October 29, 2021. (email newsletter)

Shields, Ken (of Sierra Space Corp). “Orbital Reef: A Space Station for a New Economy of Space.” IEEE-CNSV Consultants’ Network of Silicon Valley. March 8, 2022. – last viewed 12/21/2022.

Wall, Mike. “Blue Origin’s private Orbital Reef space station passes key design review.” August 24, 2022. – last viewed 12/21/2022.

Wikipedia. “International Space Station.” (undated) – last viewed 12/21/2022.

Wikipedia. “List of space stations.” (undated). – last viewed 12/21/2022.

Wikipedia. “Orbital Reef.” (undated) – last viewed 12/21/2022.

Mental Exercise for Rentals

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Part 1: No Where to Rent

Several different friends have been apartment hunting post-COVID, and the housing market (2022) is insane. My house is valued at triple what I paid for it eight years ago. The constant barrage of “sell you house for cash” may seem tempting with that sort of price jump, but everything has soared along side my home. I can’t afford to move, and the friends who are rental-hunting can’t afford anything on the market.

The price tag of housing in my brain is completely screwed up at this point. Should housing be what I paid for when I lived in New Jersey or in Texas? Before or after the housing crisis, or COVID, or the Great Recession. I remember when I was in college in Michigan in the eighties being shocked that the houses there cost as little as a car cost (having arrived from the metropolis of the East Coast where it was four or more times as much).

What SHOULD be the cost of housing, ignoring price gouging landlords and hyper-inflation pricing?

The rule of thumb is 30% of your gross income (before taxes), but the housing 30% should include rent/mortgage, interest, house or renter’s insurance, property taxes, appliances, and utilities (heat, water, sewer, trash collection, electricity, internet, phone). For a couple with two lower income jobs ($10 an hour each) – about $40,000 a year – that is $1,000 a month. Since most rentals do not include all the bills (such as renter’s insurance), a rental would need to be about $850 … and neither can get sick since low-income jobs rarely include sick leave or vacation time.

Housing in my area is running $1,000 to $2,000 for rentals.

When I think costs of something are too high, I run a mental calculation to see what needs to be charged for the person selling the product to make a living at it. I’m going to do that for apartment/house rentals.

Part 2: The Exercise – How Much a House Actually Costs to Own

I’m going to focus on a two-bedroom, one-bath, 1,000 square foot house on quarter-acre lot (about 10,000 square feet) – a starter home or end-of-life home. The basic rental need for a single person, two people splitting a rental, or two people with a child. Location will be North Carolina in the Charlotte area.

Part of the reason pricing has soared this year is many landlords have been held to pricing for two years because of COVID, so three years of price increases have hit at once. In addition, many have been unable to evict non-paying tenants, while the cost of ownership has not changed, so they have been bleeding money to keep heat on and the roof not leaking. The other end of the price-increasing stick is many landlords have joined the bandwagon of raising prices because prices are raising. (Yes, that is a circular logic sentence.)

To start, I need to know how much a house should cost. Which means I need to know how much it would cost to build a small home. Land is valued at $10,000 to $20,000. A new mobile home about 1,000 square feet (single/double wide) runs about $50,000 to $75,000. A custom-built home for 1,000 square feet runs $100,000 to $200,000 – this includes appliances. (Copinger, 2022) Usually custom-built homes costs more than existing houses because people are getting exactly what they want and are investing in the best and safest products of TODAY for their personal tastes; no hidden asbestos or lead paint issues.  Times are strange and the gap of pricing which used to be about 30% higher to custom build, has closed to 15%, and in some places in America, flipped making new cheaper than used. (Caginalp, 2022) Let’s go with a new cheap, rentable house should cost $110,000 built new before the overpriced market is taken into account which has pushed it up to $150,000.

Second part of this exercise, before we figure what a rental should cost, is what is the actual cost of home ownership. I have found over the years, maintenance of a home runs about 3.5% of the cost of the house on average over the years – some years the roof needs replaced, other times a broken window needs fixing. Basically every 30 years, a homeowner, to keep up the condition of the home, needs to plow the cost of the house back into the house. (For example, my home was built before grounding three-prongs were required in the bathrooms.)

Truth is, though, most people don’t have time to maintain their houses while holding down the jobs of TODAY. (That rewriting for proper grounding isn’t getting done anytime soon for my home. Not until the mortgage payment drain goes away or I retire and figure out how to do my own wiring.) So many houses are sold in need of repair at 20% under market value – sold to house flippers who put in the grunt work of their time to fix the land, windows, paint, that the previous owners have neglected. This exercise is about true home ownership cost, and it costs 3.5% a year to maintain a home. At $110,000, that is $3,850, or $321 a month.

Then property tax ($1,000 a year), home owner’s insurance ($1,000 a year), and utilities – phone, electric, heat, water, wi-fi ($250 a month). To own a completely paid off home cost $738 a month, if it is being maintained. Plus about 3 hours a week upkeep, mowing the lawn, taking care of the yard, fixing little things about the house.

If working on paying off a mortgage, cost would be an additional $350 or so, depending on the interest rate and payoff range. Total home ownership is $1088 the first 30 years, then $738 thereafter in today’s dollars.

Part 3: The Exercise – A House as a Rental

For the landlord, let’s assume generational wealth means the property has no mortgage. The landlord is renting the mother-in-law house after her passing. Still, the property costs $738 a month plus 3-hours-a-week to prevent it from falling into disrepair.

Third part of this exercise is figuring out what a person working on the rental property should make. That 3-hours-a-week someone is putting into the house, above basic cleaning (a renter’s responsibility). This would cover a mowing company coming every two weeks, or fixing a broken light switch, or having an exterminator come by. A handyman or jill-of-all-trades, as a self-employed individual, costs about $15 an hour depending on the licensing and tools required for the jobs.

That is an extra $180 a month cost that a landlord needs to collect to pay for all the things a homeowner normally would deal with that is the landlord’s responsibility. Now, the landlord may choose to mow herself instead of paying a mowing company $100 a month, but she is spending 6 hours of her time doing the mowing. Basically, she is being a self-employed individual doing the work of her business. Either she pays herself $100 for her time and tools transported, or she pays the mowing company and uses her time elsewhere.

Total bare minimum ownership cost is $918 per month, $738 a month plus 12 hours of expert (paid) work.

Now switching hats from basic ownership costs to landlord cost.

The landlord will need to either do the business end of the rental work, or hire a property management company to work it for her. They charge about 10% of the cost of the rental … since cheap rentals are $1,000 and I think I’m going to end about there, they would charge $100 a month. What they are covering is the bookkeeping costs of making sure the property tax and insurance gets paid, the utilities are paid, inspecting the property on occasion, and the process of hiring all those special self-employed people (like the exterminator) – in additional finding a tenant (advertising), maintaining the contract, and collecting rent. That comes to about 5 “hours” a month – and that is about the time a landlord would have to personally spend per month do to everything. The property management company will take less time, thanks to the economics of scale – paying ten property taxes at the same time – but they have more people they need to pay. Basically, a landlord’s choice to hire a property management company instead of personally doing all the management work is a break-even option; does she want to put the 5 hours in per month, or does she need her time spent elsewhere – like her own day-job or taking care of a sick relative (that mother-in-law moved with her son and the landlord).

Total is now $1018.

Only thing left is the return-on-investment. Why would a landlord do all this just to break even? $1018 is breaking even … doesn’t even pay off a mortgage. Investors, business owners, people risking their family’s property and money, need a benefit to do so more than breaking even. Investors for low-risk activities (of which property rental counts) want a 3-5% return on investment, medium risk – want a 7-10% profit (think operating a business franchise), and high-risk activities want a 25% or more profit on the initial investment (angels investing in new companies). In this case, the investment is the house – $110,000. A 3% ROI would be $3,300 – or $275 a month.

Most landlords use the ROI to payoff a mortgage, slowly getting to the point of owning the property. They do the behind-the-scenes work to the tune of 17 hours a month … per property, to increase what they are setting aside.

So a good landlord, who is maintaining a two-bedroom, one-bathroom (cheap older) house in good standing for their renters, while making enough money to make it worth their time to jump through all the hoops of renting, should charge … $1293 a month.

Which is what the going rate for rental houses in the area. This total includes all the utilities and fixing appliances. If a renter takes over some of these tasks, like mowing the lawn or painting a room, or if things aren’t included like the electric, phone, and wi-fi, then the monthly cost should be lower. If the landlord isn’t repairing things in the house, then the price should be lower. But a solid, lower-middle-class rental, $1200 is a reasonable price for a two-bedroom house at the moment.

Swap out for a cheap mobile home (still the same size as the rental house) – lowering maintenance and ROI needs – and the price drops to $1020.

The gross income needed for $1200 rent? Remember housing should be 30% of gross – or $48,000 income per year.

Part 4: Closing Thoughts

It really hit me while doing this exercise that Rentals MUST cost more than home ownership. Because you have all the cost of the house, PLUS running a business on top of it. Even landlords need to be paid for their time if they are doing their job right.


Caginalp, Ruben. “Is it cheaper to build or buy a house?” 3/23/2022. Last viewed 8/13/2022.

Copinger, Kaitlynn and Amber Taufen. “How Much Does It Cost to Build a House in 2022.” 3/31/2022. Last viewed 8/13/2022.

Leonhardt, Megan. “Use the 30% and the 28/36 rules to figure out how much you should be spending on housing.” Make It series. Updated 7/15/2021. Last viewed 8/13/2022.,like%20heat%2C%20water%20and%20electricity

“North Carolina Fair Market Rent for 2021.” Last viewed 8/13/2022.

Book Review: Impervious

Amazon Cover

Impervious by A.J. Hartley


Trina Warren didn’t plan on being anyone’s hero. She planned on going to fourth period as normal. But then there was a bang, and an overturned chair, and everything was different. Now Trina finds herself in a fantasy world, pursued by a faceless, nameless monster that only she can stop. Just one second is all it takes for Trina to turn from a regular clumsy high school girl, to a monster-fighting warrior. Just one second is all it takes for everything to change …


Trina Warren didn’t think she was going to be a hero. She thought she was going to go to fourth period, hopefully avoiding any more hassle from the jocks about dropping their plates at her waitressing job the night before. Then there was a bang, and an overturned chair, and everything was different.

Now Trina finds herself in a fantasy world, pursued by a faceless, nameless monster that only she can stop. But she doesn’t know how to stop it, she doesn’t have any weapons, and her only clue is the necklace that arrived in a mysterious package that morning, with no return address and a cryptic note inside. She must navigate an unfamiliar world full of monsters, magic, and danger if she is to defeat the mysterious Soulless One and save her friends. And herself.



Who will? I will.

First, Trina thinks she is chosen because she is special, in the classic Young Adult (YA) story arc of the destined one. It is the stories she grew up reading and loving. Destiny, magic, special. So unlike her life with her dad still mourning the death of her mother, while she is a dead-end waitress while attending high school in a dead-end town. Being special is something.

Except for the thing that you need something special for. That special horror.

But what if you aren’t special, what is if the horror is just like you. not special but every-day? And every-day person facing an every-day horror? Can you still stand up? Who will stop the every-day horror? Will you? And are you willing to pay the cost?

(Received for an honest review)

If shared with a young adult, be prepared to have a discussion about it (i.e. you need to read it too). The topic, underneath everything, is school shootings. This is a great bridge to create a heart-to-heart with a person about their daily fears.