Engine test of Blue Origin BE-4 engine goes bad


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Capitalism n space: Blue Origin today revealed that an engine test of its BE-4 rocket engine, intended for sale to ULA as well as the basis for their own New Glenn rocket, went wrong.

In a rare update, the Blue Origin space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos reported that it lost a set of powerpack test hardware for its BE-4 rocket engine over the weekend, but added that such a setback is “not unusual” during development. “That’s why we always set up our development programs to be hardware-rich,” the company tweeted today. “Back into testing soon.”

The announcement was via a tweet, and they have released no additional details.

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10 comments

  • Frank

    This is rocket science and fault detection and recovery is where private enterprise can excel over public or government run high-risk technology programs. Mr. Bezos has demonstrated classic entrepreneurial instincts for managing risks vs. rewards of his own assets.

    This is just of many reasons why commercial space, if enabled and unshackled, will thrive and be an asset to America.

  • Calvin Dodge

    I’m not worried. SpaceX’s propulsion chief recently said they had lots of explosions while developing the Merlin.

  • Edward

    These are the kinds of things that go wrong during a project’s development phase, especially when a new technology is being developed (e.g. methane fuel rather then RP-1).

    Sometimes the problems are even simpler, such as dropped oxygen tanks. One would think that after all the centuries of lifting and handling heavy objects, we would have a better handle on not dropping them, but we occasionally drop them anyway. Go figure.

  • LocalFluff

    What could ever go wrong with a rocket engine? Just looking at one reminds me of the worst code I’ve ever written. Better NOT test this stuff.
    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:XLR-99_Rocket_Engine_USAF.jpg

  • LocalFluff

    A Shuttle main engine test for the SLS scrubbed. Well, by all means (literally!) don’t hurry.
    https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2017/05/testing-controller-rs-25-hot-fire-test-sls-stennis/

    I wonder if it’s worthwhile for a company to design a launcher using a single SSMEs each from the storage, if NASA gives them away. An Ares I type launcher using the existing solid boosters shouldn’t be too hard given the experience from it already. The only thing of value in the SLS/Oreo circus is the engines.

  • ken anthony

    I’d be worried if they didn’t blow up an occasional engine.

  • LocalFluff

    ken,
    I agree if it were a new engine under development. But this is the RS-25. These engine pieces have successfully flown to space already. None of them ever exploded. It was the beginning of reusability. All rocket scientists seem to love it. It’s a pretty big item as in the image below, and every turn of those pipes is of course for a self evident purpose:
    http://www.collectspace.com/news/news-031116a-rs25-engine-test-sls.html

  • LocalFluff: You are very unclear. The post is about Blue Origin’s new BE-4 engine, not the SLS engines. The BE-4 has never flown, and it uses methane, a new fuel. It needs to be tested extensively before use, or else Blue Origin and anyone else who buys it are being badly negligent. This is what Ken was saying, as well as everyone else. It seems to me that you are confusing the two.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff,
    Keep in mind that barely visible inside all that plumbing is an engine that burns more fuel than several megawatt electrical power plants combined, producing thrusts and vibrations that would terrify the engineers at those power plants, at high temperatures and pressures (somewhat higher than at most of those power plants), without external cooling (as all of those power plants have). All that is happening within a rocket engine’s combustion chamber, which is smaller than the one at any of those power plants.

    Other than the pressure, temperature, vibration, and thrust forces, the rocket engineers and rocket scientists have to worry about shock waves (creating a high force at a location that is unable to withstand that much force) and pogo (where the pressure inside the engine causes the fuel to flow more slowly, so the pressure decreases and the fuel begins to flow faster again, so the pressure builds and the fuel flows more slowly again, so the pressure decreases, and the fuel … — the Saturn V’s initial first stage test was not so successful at this, as the supply line to the center engine stretched and contracted with the vibration of the structure) and design the whole thing strong enough to not explode yet light enough to get a rocket off the ground and into space.

    Then they have to attach the engine(s) to the rocket in a lightweight way that does not damage the whole rocket yet avoids another kind of pogo (the structure that holds the engine vibrating near a natural frequency — the Saturn V’s second stage was not so successful at this, which is why Apollo 13’s second stage engine shut down early).

    And they mount the fuel tank about a meter away from the engine, with all its heat and pressure and thrust and vibration.

    Them rocket scientists be crazy! They almost make jet engines seem reasonable.

  • LocalFluff

    Ah, I was thinking of the postponement of the SLS engine test.

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