Update on the development of Blue Origin’s orbital rocket New Glenn


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Link here. The article provides a lot of interesting details about Blue Origin’s plans and status, including this tidbit about the New Glenn assembly facility, now expected to be finished by February 2018 at the latest:

The facility will largely be used to build the second and third stages for New Glenn, with Blue Origin actually planning to construct very few first stage boosters.

With each first stage booster planned to be reused up to 100 times, the factory will mainly concentrate on – and for large periods of time is only planned to – produce 2nd and 3rd stages. Mr. Henderson noted that once the first stage boosters are retrieved after flight, their storage will be managed across the refurbishment facility at LC-36 (capable of holding three or four boosters), the integration facility at LC-36 (also capable of holding “at least” three or four boosters), and the Merritt Island production facility (which can hold four boosters).

This would seemingly reveal that Blue Origin plans to rely on roughly only 12 first stage boosters at a time (once New Glenn is fully operational and recovery is “routine”), relying almost exclusively on booster recovery and refurbishment to maintain its first stage boosters manifest.

The article also notes the Blue Origin intends to always land its stages on a barge, and is about to finalize the purchase of that barge.

What I am puzzled about is the almost complete disappearance from the news of the company’s suborbital project, New Shepard. The last news story I’ve seen, from mid-September, said they hoped to resume test flights before the end of the year, with manned flights in 2018. Since then, however, there has been no updates, which makes me wonder if Blue Origin has decided to put that suborbital tourism project aside.

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9 comments

  • LocalFluff

    Suborbital tourism wasn’t a good idea to begin with. Sooner or later it will go wrong and that will be bad for business and for space flight. And only in order to use launchers as roller coasters for fun. It is certainly great as a step to real space flight, but putting tourists in it would end in tears, I’m afraid. Tourists won’t pay any relevant amount of money anyway to this multi-billion project. The tourism part of it is economic nonsense. I doubt it was ever anything more than some kind of marketing ploy.

    Let’s say that X% of the launch cost can be saved by re-usages. After 10 reuses 90% of X has been saved. Another 100 launches hardly change that figure. I doubt that the first generation reusable launchers will fly more than ten times each. The benefit from further reuses diminishes.

  • ken anthony

    BO has to focus on SpaceX markets just to keep up. Even if SpaceX does suborbital it will be with orbital vehicles. That was a smarter move and Jeff is slowly realizing this.

  • Calvin G Dodge

    Localfluff, considering that fuel is about 0.3% of the cost, I think a reduction of 99% would be VERY significant.

  • Diane Wilson

    Are there any realistic projections about the actual cost of re-use? It’s a lot more than just a fresh tank of gas, so to speak. The first stage has to be recovered, returned to launch site, re-inspected, re-tested, and essentially re-certified. That’s all time- and labor-intensive. There’s also the fixed costs of the drone ship, storage facilities, transport and other equipment. Even with a clean-burning fuel, engines are going to need refurbishment on a recurring basis.

    It’s also likely that New Glenn will have some accidents or other issues along the way, and BO certainly doesn’t have much operational experience yet. Has Jeff Bezos seen the SpaceX “blooper reel”? Will BO have a blooper reel of their own?

  • Mike Borgelt

    Should be no more inspection, refurbishment etc than for an airplane if the stage is designed right.
    Bezos has it much easier than Musk as Musk has furnished the existence proof of reusable stages.
    I like the return to launch site re-use better than the barge idea which I think is only being done by SpaceX because the Falcon 9 has insufficient performance for some missions otherwise. BFR (or any other properly designed stage) will fix that.

  • Diane Wilson

    It will be a lot more refurbishment and inspection than for an airplane, at least for the foreseeable future. Much of airplane turnaround is based on long experience and painstaking testing for each new aircraft before certification. Much is also automated, again because OEMs and airlines know what needs to be checked. No one yet has that for rockets.

    Also, rockets undergo a much more stressful experience in a few minutes of flight, and the engines are not yet close to being certified for rapid turnaround.

    Bezos does not have it easier than Musk. BO has landed suborbital rockets that were essentially straight up and straight down. Musk did the same with their Grasshopper, although it didn’t go to such high altitude. Both were engineering test articles, but Falcon is a production stage for orbital missions. Musk still had a lot to learn about landing, and early practice runs with Falcon 9 launches did no more than simulate landing at sea, without bothering with a barge. There were a number of failures before the first successful landing. The devil is always in the details, and Musk isn’t likely to share his lessons learned with Bezos.

  • wodun

    Diane Wilson
    November 10, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    Are there any realistic projections about the actual cost of re-use? It’s a lot more than just a fresh tank of gas, so to speak. The first stage has to be recovered, returned to launch site, re-inspected, re-tested, and essentially re-certified. That’s all time- and labor-intensive. There’s also the fixed costs of the drone ship, storage facilities, transport and other equipment. Even with a clean-burning fuel, engines are going to need refurbishment on a recurring basis.

    I think Musk mentioned some of this in his AMA talk, like a F9 will fly N times before anything other than an inspection. I think he mentioned something about refurbishment costs someplace too and I probably have it bookmarked but I have a lot of stuff bookmarked so…

    I haven’t seen anyone segment out the overhead and what those costs would be in total or shared applied to a single launch. Dick Eagleson did something like that a while back when trying to figure out what a FH would cost.

  • wodun

    I didn’t realize the NG was going to be three stages. It doesn’t look like they plan on those upper stages being reusable for launches but I hope they look at in-space reusability.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff wrote: “The benefit from further reuses diminishes.

    Although this is true, it is notable that airlines do not throw away their aircraft or engines after only 10 flights. In fact, they are willing to perform overhauls on both in order to keep them flying for more than a thousand flights. The benefit of reuse exists for a long time.

    Diane Wilson,
    The fixed costs do not change much whether the rocket (or aircraft, in my airline example) is used only twice or 100 times, but the manufacturing cost amortized over the life of the rocket comes down. A $40 million rocket used twice costs $20 per launch, but used 100 times costs only $400 thousand per launch. That is a savings of almost $20 million per launch, no matter what the refurbishment costs and other launch costs may be.

    It seems that both SpaceX and Blue Origin are guarding their estimates on the costs of reuse. I have not heard these estimates.

    As for the Blue Origin blooper reel, The bad landing of the first New Shepard rocket has not yet appeared, so they don’t seem to be as open about their failures as SpaceX.

    But that video may be poor public relations for the space tourism business. I suspect that Blue Origin will still do the space tourism, and I, too, believe that they will eventually have a fatal failure. How the public and government reacts will be interesting, but Virgin Galactic already gave a very public demonstration that rocketry is still dangerous. I think that accident has brought the public and the politicians closer to reality about how much more risk space tourists will be taking than airline passengers do.

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