On October 16, 2023, Blue Origin announced the development of a new spacecraft. Dubbed Blue Ring, this vehicle will provide in-space logistical services.
Blue Ring will be able to act as a satellite bus, providing services like power, data transmission, and computing. The spacecraft will also be a space tug, capable of refueling satellites and moving them to their destinations.
Blue Origin specified a payload mass of more than 3,000 kg, and a capability to serve missions in Medium Earth Orbit, cislunar space, and beyond. The delta-v, i.e. the ability to maneuver between orbits, has been described as “unprecedented”, but no precise data has been put out.
Paul Ebertz, Senior Vice President of Blue Origin’s In-Space Systems, commented on the matter. He said growth of space infrastructure and in-orbit mobility are some of today’s greatest challenges, and that Blue Ring will address them. In-Space Systems is a new business unit at Blue Origin, of which the new project is part.
The announcement has left out a lot of details. We do not know any technical specifications about the vehicle. The only number we have is the payload figure of more than 3,000 kg, which though vague, hints that the vehicle aims at the heavy end of the market. We also do not have any planned launch date.
Blue Origin thus wants to barge into the in-orbit services market. Today the market is mainly composed of small vehicles, such as D-Orbit’s ION Satellite Carries and Spaceflight Industries’ SHERPA. These vehicles can carry small satellites to specific LEO destinations after they are launched, often on rideshare missions. Northrop Grumman also offers services in GEO, having launched two Mission Extension Vehicles that docked to satellites low on fuel.
Jeff Bezos’ company is also busy with many other projects. They currently operate the New Shepard suborbital rocket, which will soon return to flight after an accident in September 2022. Many projects are in development, including the heavy launcher New Glenn and the crewed lander Blue Moon. It is clear that Blue Origin is aiming to offer a broad range of services. What is certain is that the orbital services market is seeing rapid growth and that many new players are about to enter. We will surely see many interesting developments in the future.