Bezos' engineers dream of Blue Ring space platform in orbit by 2025
A little optimistic, given Blue Origin can't even deliver it themselves yet
Bezos-backed space firm Blue Origin has unveiled plans to construct a multi-mission, multi-orbit "space mobility platform," and claims it only needs until 2025 to get the structure in space.
Blue Ring, as the platform's been dubbed, got very little in the way of description in Blue Origin's brief press release about the spacecraft this week, aside from rough sketches of its proposed purpose. The Bezos-backed biz said Blue Ring would provide "end-to-end" services, including hosting, transportation, refueling, data relaying, logistics and in-space cloud computing.
Those services will only be offered to commercial and government customers, and Blue Origin said its Rings would be capable of supporting missions "in medium Earth orbit out to the cislunar region and beyond" thanks to its "unprecedented delta-V capabilities and mission flexibility."
Development of Blue Ring is being handled by a new Blue Origin business unit called In-Space Systems that was announced alongside the craft.
"Blue Ring addresses two of the most difficult challenges in spaceflight today: growing space infrastructure and increasing mobility on-orbit," said Paul Ebertz, SVP of the new business unit. "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."
We have plenty of questions for Blue Origin about Blue Ring's capabilities, but the company hasn't responded to our questions.
Blue Origin's VP of government sales, Lars Hoffman, told Aerospace Daily that Blue Ring would be able to handle payloads in excess of 3,000 kg, depending on orbit, and added that it can host and deploy 1,100-lb-class satellites, with over a dozen connection ports for such craft.
The size of Blue Ring wasn't mentioned in either the release or Hoffman's comments, but he did say it was "rather large," with solar arrays measuring 144 feet in length. It also has chemical thrusters to extra grunt.
That said, it'll still have to get into orbit. Naturally the space biz would prefer to use its own rockets for launching the Ring, but Hoffman said it was also able to fly on spacecraft like the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy or ULA's Vulcan, which has yet to launch. "It's launch-vehicle agnostic," he opined.
"Most satellites are dropped off and they have to boost themselves to their eventual orbits or they are placed precisely into their orbit. Blue Ring offers that stretch to the final orbit and the ability to deliver multiple payloads to multiple different orbits," Hoffman said.
Hoffman also mentioned that Blue Ring has had a lot of interest from customers, and that "the manifest is already pretty full." Blue Origin wants to launch a Blue Ring by 2025, Hoffman added - an ambitious goal given Blue Origin's record.
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Project Kuiper, Amazon's satellite internet competitor to Starlink, has been repeatedly delayed due to problems with Vulcan, which Blue Origin has been manufacturing engines for. Its first satellites launched recently on an elderly Atlas V rocket after years of delays.
Bezos' mega-rocket, New Glenn, has also experienced multiple delays, with launches being repeatedly pushed back for one reason or another, most recently due to a lack of government funding, which we definitely can't expect the company's multibillionaire owner to put forward.
As of April, New Glenn's maiden launch has been delayed into 2024, making it years late. Off the record a Blue Origin staffer told a Register journalist recently that the launch date is likely to slip even further.
Nor is Blue Ring the first commercial space manufacturing project that Blue Origin has been involved in. Orbital Reef is a proposed commercial space station that would be built by Blue Origin and Sierra Space, with plans to get it aloft by 2030.
In September, however, it came out that the relationship between the two space firms was rocky, with both more interested in their own projects, like Blue Origin's NASA-awarded Moon landing contract, meaning Orbital Reef might be dead before it ever becomes real.
Speaking of real, it's not clear if Blue Origin has managed to construct a single Blue Ring yet, and 2025 isn't that far off. With NASA's own plans for orbital maintenance and manufacturing tech years behind schedule, it'll be quite the feat for Blue Origin to put a Ring in space in less than two years. ®