WASHINGTON — Blue Origin formally announced plans Oct. 16 to develop an orbital maneuvering vehicle, confirming a year’s worth of comments and speculation about the project.
In a statement, Blue Origin announced Blue Ring, which it described as a “spacecraft platform focused on providing in-space logistics and delivery” from medium Earth orbit to cislunar space and beyond.
“Blue Ring addresses two of the most difficult challenges in spaceflight today: growing space infrastructure and increasing mobility on-orbit,” Paul Ebertz, senior vice president of the company’s new In-Space Systems business unit, said in the announcement. “We’re offering our customers the ability to easily access and maneuver through a variety of orbits cost-effectively while having access to critical data to ensure a successful mission.”
The company said Blue Ring will be able to accommodate payloads in excess of 3,000 kilograms, supporting both transportation of spacecraft and hosted payloads. The vehicle will also be able to offer refueling, data relay and other logistics services for payloads.
Blue Origin provided few other details, though, beyond an illustration of the spacecraft. The announcement, for example, did not state when the company expected Blue Ring to enter service or any pricing information.
The statement was the first formal acknowledgement of Blue Ring after company officials had been dropping hints about an orbital transfer vehicle for at least a year.
“We are developing an orbital transfer vehicle capability to host payloads throughout cislunar space, to deploy them, to relocate them, and give us the kind of flexibility throughout that enormous volume of space that we need,” said Brent Sherwood, at the time senior vice president of advanced development programs at Blue Origin, during a panel at the ASCEND conference last October in Las Vegas. He didn’t elaborate on those plans or use the Blue Ring name.
In a presentation to a National Academies committee last October, another Blue Origin official, Erika Wagner, also mentioned the project, calling it Blue Ring. That included a chart showing various roles for Blue Ring in Earth orbit and at “planetary targets” that include many of the same capabilities in the new company announcement. The company at the time did not respond to questions about the program.
Blue Ring, when it does enter service, may face strong competition. Several other companies are working on orbital transfer vehicles, primarily for transportation of small satellites and accommodation of hosted payloads in low Earth orbit. Some companies, though, are looking beyond LEO, like Quantum Space, which is developing vehicles for taking payloads to geostationary orbit and cislunar space.
The announcement comes as Blue Origin is going through a leadership transition. Bob Smith, chief executive of the company for six years, announced Sept. 25 he would resign effective Dec. 4. He will be replaced by Dave Limp, an Amazon executive whose portfolio included the Project Kuiper broadband constellation.
Two days later, the Federal Aviation Administration said it had closed out the investigation into the New Shepard launch mishap in September 2022. Blue Origin said it planned to resume flights of that suborbital vehicle “soon” but was not more specific, and New Shepard has not flown since the closure of the investigation despite online speculation it would fly in early October.
Blue Origin has also been pushing back against reports it is deemphasizing its work on the Orbital Reef commercial space station or possibly ending its partnership with Sierra Space on the project. In several social media posts, the company said it was continuing to work on Orbital Reef as part of the first phase a NASA initiative called Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD).
“We’re fully committed to working with NASA to ensure a continued human presence in low Earth orbit,” it said in its most recent post on the topic Oct. 10. Sierra Space “is a big part of this effort and continues to provide deliverables for our NASA CLD Phase 1 contract. We’re all in on CLD Phase 2.”