Tag Archives: Blue Origin

Congress micromanages rocket development at ULA

Corrupt Congress: Even though ULA favors Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine for its Vulcan rocket, various elected officials in Alabama are pushing the company to use Aeroject Rocketdyne’s AR-4 engine instead.

At the end of February, two US representatives, Mike Rogers of Alabama [Republican] and Mac Thornberry of Texas [Republican], decided to push a little harder. On February 28, they sent a letter to Lisa Disbrow, the acting secretary of the US Air Force, and James MacStravic, who is performing the duties of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics. In addition to reiterating a desire that ULA continue to fly a second rocket, the Delta IV Heavy, the letter urges the Pentagon officials to be skeptical about the BE-4 engine.

“The United States Government (USG) must have a hands-on, decision-making role… in any decision made by United Launch Alliance to down-select engines on its proposed Vulcan space launch system, especially where one of the technologies is unproven at the required size and power,” the letter states. “If ULA plans on requesting hundreds of millions of dollars from the USG for development of its launch vehicle and associated infrastructure, then it is not only appropriate but required that the USG have a significant role in the decision-making concerning the vehicle.” The letter then goes on to say the Air Force should not give any additional funding to ULA, other than for current launch vehicles, until the company provides “full access, oversight of, and approval rights over decision-making” in its choice of contractors for the engines on Vulcan.

The article also mentions porkmaster Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), who also favors Aerojet Rocketdyne because they say they will build it in Alabama. Note also that these elected officials are not only trying to pick the winner in the private competition between these two rocket engines, they also want to force ULA to keep using the Delta rocket, even though it is very expensive and not competitive with the newer rockets being developed by other companies. And their only reason for doing so is because they provide jobs for their districts.

This one story illustrates perfectly the corruption that permeates both parties in Congress. While it is more likely that Democrats will play this pork game, there are plenty of corrupt Republicans who play it as well. These petty dictators all think they have the right to interfere in the private efforts of Americans, whether it involves building a new rocket or buying health insurance. And all we get from this is a poorer nation and a bankrupt federal government.

Blue Origin signs second contract for New Glenn

The competition heats up: One day after announcing its first launch contract, Blue Origin announced today a second contract for its New Glenn rocket.

In a tweet this morning, Blue Origin Founder Jeff Bezos said OneWeb has reserved five launches using the rocket, bringing to six the number of missions in the New Glenn manifest.

So far I can find no information about the prices being charged by Blue Origin for these launches. I suspect they are giving their customers discounts for being the first, but this is not confirmed yet.

Blue Origin gets its first orbital customer

The competition heats up: Blue Origin today announced its first orbital contract for its New Glenn rocket, planned for a 2021 launch at the earliest.

The contract is with Eutelsat, which probably gets a bargain basement price for being New Glenn’s first paying customer. The rocket will also land its first stage vertically, on a barge, for reuse, just as SpaceX does with its Falcon 9.

New Glenn will be a big and very powerful rocket, capable of putting 45 tons into low Earth orbit, only slightly less than SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy.

Blue Origin unveils first completed BE-4 rocket engine

The competition heats up: Blue Origin today unveiled to the public its first completed BE-4 rocket engine, being built for its New Glenn orbital rocket as well as ULA’s Vulcan rocket.

More important however was that the company expects the second and third engines to come off the assembly line very soon.

Blue Origin proposes unmanned lunar mission

The competition heats up: Blue Origin has proposed building for NASA an unmanned lunar mission to visit Shackleton Crater at the Moon’s south pole by 2020.

The Post says the company’s seven-page proposal, dated Jan. 4, has been circulating among NASA’s leadership and President Donald Trump’s transition team. It’s only one of several proposals aimed at turning the focus of exploration beyond Earth orbit to the moon and its environs during Trump’s term.

As described by the Post, the proposal seeks NASA’s support for sending a “Blue Moon” lander to Shackleton Crater near the moon’s south pole. The lander would be designed to carry up to 10,000 pounds of payload. It could be launched by Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, which is currently under development, or by other vehicles including NASA’s Space Launch System or United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5. [emphasis mine]

The important take-away from this story is not the proposal to go to the Moon, but the proposal, as highlighted, that other rockets could do it instead of SLS. Though the proposal includes SLS as a possible launch vehicle, NASA’s giant rocket simply won’t be ready by 2020. That New Glenn might be illustrates again how much better private space does things, as this rocket is only now beginning development. If it is ready by 2020, which is what Blue Origin has been promising, it will have taken the company only about four years to build it, one fourth the time it is taking NASA to build SLS.

Aerojet Rocketdyne sets record testing new rocket engine

The competition heats up: In recent static fire tests of its new AR-1 rocket engine Aerojet Rocketdyne set a record for the highest chamber pressure for any American engine using oxygen and kerosene.

They hope to convince ULA to use this engine in its Atlas 5 rocket to replace the Russian engine they presently use. At the moment, though ULA has made no commitment, it appears however that the company is favoring Blue Origin’s engine instead. That Congress favors Aerojet Rocketdyne is their one ace in the hole, since Congress controls the purse strings.

Success for New Shepard launch abort test

The competition heats up: Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule not only successfully rocketed away from its propulsion module and landed safely, the propulsion module unexpectedly survived today’ launch abort test and landed vertically as well.

This was the fifth flight of the propulsion module, which with the capsule will now be retired and placed on display.

Below the fold is the video of the entire test flight, including countdown and several long holds. The actual launch is at 1:06:19.
» Read more

Jeff Bezos releases first images of New Glenn prototype

The competition heats up: In a series of tweets Jeff Bezos on Monday released the first images Blue Origin’s next rocket, New Glenn, showing a scale-model being during wind tunnel tests.

They were testing the rocket’s aerodynamics during launch and return, and were apparently happy with the results.

Blue Origin engine test might delay ULA decision on Vulcan engine

ULA will delay its final decision on the engine it will use for its new Vulcan rocket until Blue Origin successfully completes a scheduled static fire engine test, originally schedule for late this year but possibly delayed until 2017.

“It’s really tied not so much to the calendar but to a technical event,” [Tory Bruno, CEO of ULA,] said of the schedule for an engine decision. “We want to have a full-scale static firing of the BE-4, so that we understand that it’s going to hit its performance and it’s going to be stable…. That may occur by the end of the year, but I could see it moving into the spring a little bit, to make sure we have enough test data and we feel confident about where we’re at,” he added.

He emphasized that the BE-4 remained the “primary path” to be used on the first stage of the Vulcan, ahead of the AR1 engine under development by Aerojet Rocketdyne. “They’re out in front,” Bruno said of the BE-4.

This engine test is not only critical for ULA, but its success will help firm up Blue Origin’s developmental schedule for its just announced New Glenn rocket.

Bruno’s comments at the link also suggest that ULA, like Arianespace, is pushing to grab some of the customers of SpaceX and Russia, both of whom are now experiencing launch delays.

Blue Origin reveals its orbital rocket

The competition heats up: Blue Origin today unveiled the orbital rocket it plans to launch before 2020, dubbed New Glenn.

Named in honor of John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, New Glenn is based around two variants – a two stage and a three stage launch vehicle – and a reusable booster stage. No information has been released as to where the booster stage will land, although it is believed Blue Origin is evaluating the option of an “ocean-going platform,” per planning documentation associated with the launch site. “Building, flying, landing, and re-flying New Shepard has taught us so much about how to design for practical, operable reusability. And New Glenn incorporates all of those learnings,” Mr. Bezos added.

Mr. Bezos added that the two-stage New Glenn is 270 feet tall, and its second stage is powered by a single vacuum-optimized BE-4 engine (the BE-4U). The 3-stage New Glenn is 313 feet tall. A single vacuum-optimized BE-3 engine, burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, powers its third stage. The booster and the second stage are identical in both variants. The three-stage variant – with its high specific impulse hydrogen upper stage – is capable of flying demanding beyond-LEO missions.

The rocket will be quite large and comparable more to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy than its Falcon 9, indicating that the competition is not only forcing companies to lower their prices, it is forcing new designs to be larger and have more capacity.

Blue Origin to do New Shepard launch abort test

The competition heats up: For the next test flight of New Shepard, tentatively scheduled for early October, Blue Origin plans to test the capsule’s launch abort system, separating the capsule prematurely from its propulsion module during launch.

“We’ll be doing our in-flight escape test with the same reusable New Shepard booster that we’ve already flown four times,” Bezos wrote. “About 45 seconds after liftoff at about 16,000 feet, we’ll intentionally command escape. Redundant separation systems will sever the crew capsule from the booster at the same time we ignite the escape motor. The escape motor will vector thrust to steer the capsule to the side, out of the booster’s path. The high acceleration portion of the escape lasts less than two seconds, but by then the capsule will be hundreds of feet away and diverging quickly. It will traverse twice through transonic velocities—the most difficult control region—during the acceleration burn and subsequent deceleration. The capsule will then coast, stabilized by reaction control thrusters, until it starts descending.”

If all goes well, the capsule will make a normal descent under three drogue parachutes, and then its main parachutes, to the ground. And the booster? It may not fare so well. It was not designed to survive an in-flight escape, Bezos noted, as it will be slammed with 70,000 pounds of off-axis force and hot exhaust. At Max-Q it is not clear whether the propulsion module will survive—in some Monte Carlo simulations it does, but in others it does not.

I suspect they already have at least one new propulsion module ready to go, and plan to use it with the reused capsule in future tests.

Blue Origin to use two launchpads at Cape Canaveral

The competition heats up: Even though it is years away from flying its first orbital rocket, Blue Origin has expanded its plans at Cape Canaveral and now plans to remodel and use two different launchpads there for orbital flights.

The Kent, Wash.-based company filed a permit Sept. 6 to build and operate two orbital launch sites at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, taking up launch complexes 11 and 36. The company originally announced its plans to blast off its rockets at launch complex 36 last year at the same time revealing its decision to build a rocket manufacturing facility near Space Florida’s Exploration Park in Merritt Island. Taking up launch complex 11 (LC-11) is a new development.

This means that when the company starts testing its orbital rocket it will likely be doing it in public, from the Cape, rather than in the secretive manner in which it developed its suborbital New Shepard spacecraft out in Texas.

Concrete poured for Blue Origin factory

The competition heats up: Blue Origin this week began pouring concrete for its new rocket factory in Florida.

The Florida facility will be devoted to orbital operations, involving a spacecraft currently known as “Very Big Brother.” The orbital craft could eventually be offered to NASA as a transport ship for cargo or astronauts flying to and from the International Space Station. It could take on other missions as well.

They hope to open the facility by 2018.

More evidence ULA will pick Blue Origin over Aerojet Rocketdyne

In a press interview published in late July, a ULA executive confirmed that the company is going to pick Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine for its new Vulcan rocket.

ULA used a Russian engine for its expendable Atlas V booster but has long relied on U.S. suppliers such as Aerojet Rocketdyne. For Vulcan’s reusable engine, ULA is turning to Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin. The company’s cutting-edge BE-4 is powered by liquid natural gas instead of kerosene or liquid hydrogen.

By partnering with a startup like Blue Origin, ULA gains other advantages. “There is a world of difference between the culture at Blue Origin and the culture at Aerojet Rocketdyne,” said [Dr. George F. Sowers, ULA’s vice president for advanced programs]. “We knew we could absorb some of their culture by osmosis, just by working with them.” That influence shows up in cross-team collaboration. “We are literally breaking down walls to create a ‘Silicon Valley’ workspace,” Sowers said.

Sowers is very careful to say nothing about the Atlas 5 and the engine that will replace the Russian engine in its first stage. ULA originally signed its deal with Blue Origin with the Atlas 5 in mind, but has not made a final decision between Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne because Congress appears to favor Aerojet Rocketdyne’s engine, and Congress is a very big gorilla you do not upset. However, their development plans for Vulcan are incremental and closely linked with the Atlas 5. They plan to introduce Vulcan piecemeal in various upgrades of Atlas 5 as they go, so if they are set on using Blue Origin’s engine in the Vulcan rocket, it probably means that they plan on using it to replace the Russian engine in Atlas 5. This interview appears to confirm this.

New Shepard aced its landing test

The competition heats up: According to an email sent out by Jeff Bezos, the recent New Shepard capsule landing test, with one parachute disabled, was a complete success.

Besides the three parachutes, New Shepard is slowed in its descent by a retrorocket that fires just before the capsule hits the ground. Bezos’ email also provided pictures of the “crushable ring” on the bottom of the capsule, which can help decelerate the craft if it hits the ground too fast (acting sort of like the bumper on a car). “Even with one chute out, the crushable barely crushed,” wrote Bezos, who is also founder and CEO of Amazon.com.

“When new, the crushable is about 5.5 inches [14 centimeters] high and can crush down to less than 1 inch [0.4 cm] high, providing a constant deceleration force as it crushes. After the mission, the crushable was still over 5 inches [12.7 cm] high along nearly the entire circumference of the ring,” Bezos wrote.

No word on when the next test flight will take place.

New rocket company raising investment capital

The competition heats up: Two former employees of SpaceX and Blue Origin have teamed up to start their own rocket company, aimed at using 3D printing technology to build rockets “with zero human labor.”

The funding rounds are described in two documents filed in May and this month with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The first filing reports that $1.1 million in equity was sold to investors. The second filing serves as a new notice of $8.4 million in equity sold, out of a $9.6 million offering.

The filings indicate that Relativity Space is based in Seattle, but in response to an email inquiry, the company declined to say anything further about its location, its business plan or its investors. “We are entirely in stealth mode and will comment more when we are ready,” the company said.

New companies come and go, but the fact that the guys in charge of this come from these two companies, and have already raised significant investment capital, suggests attention should be paid.

Blue Origin breaks ground on rocket factory

The competition heats up: Blue Origin has broken ground on a Florida factory for building its orbital rockets.

At 750,000 square feet, the new custom-built facility is designed to be large enough to accommodate manufacturing, processing, integration, and testing of orbital rockets. To put that size in perspective, SpaceX’s rocket facility in Hawthorne, California is nearly one million square feet. Bezos stated that the entire rocket would be manufactured in this facility with the exception of the rocket engines themselves.

What this means is that Bezos is satisfied with the results of the test flights of his suborbital New Shepard spacecraft, and is now ready to upscale to a orbital rocket that would compete with SpaceX and everyone else in the increasingly competitive launch market.

New Shepard successfully completes fourth flight

The competition heats up: Blue Origin today completed the fourth test flight of its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft, successfully landing intact its capsule with only two parachutes.

That’s four flights in about seven months, which for a test program seems a reasonable pace. I would expect them to soon begin testing faster turnaround times for the spacecraft, just to see if they can launch and repeat more quickly.

NASA signs Blue Origin for suborbital missions

The competition heats up: NASA has contracted with Blue Origin to use its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft for suborbital research missions.

The company hasn’t actually won any contracts, but is now certified to bid on any of NASA’s suborbital research work, as are Masten Space Systems, Near Space Corporation, UP Aerospace, Virgin Galactic, and World View Enterprise. The difference is that of all these companies, only Blue Origin has a ship built and already flying.

Billionaires propose big space plans

At separate interviews given during a media conference held this week in California, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos each expressed their thoughts about what they hope to accomplish in space over the next few decades.

First, Jeff Bezos outlined his belief that, in order to protect the Earth, humanity is going to have to eventually move its heavy manufacturing off the planet and into space. He thought colonizing the planets was a cool idea, but his focus remained with Earth, and using space as a way to protect it.

Musk meanwhile revealed his company’s long range plans for Mars, including their firm intention to send a Dragon capsule to the red planet during every future launch opportunity, beginning with 2018. Each mission will provide information needed to improve and develop their engineering so that they can hopefully send humans there by 2024.

A realistic appraisal of both men’s proposals will quickly recognize that they are probably overly optimistic. Bezos might be right that we should move our heavy industries into space, but he is not realistic to think this can happen soon, or is even possible. Musk’s company SpaceX might be laying the groundwork for the eventual colonization of Mars, but to think it will begin happening by 2024 is unrealistic.

Still, what both men are proposing are things that they are personally helping to make happen. Neither man has to get anyone else’s permission or approval to push these dreams. All they need to do is make sure the products they are building for accomplishing these tasks can also make money by providing services to others. Since this is exactly what both men are doing, they will likely achieve far more than anyone can imagine, even if the specific proposals they are putting forth now do not happen in their lifetimes.

This bright and very possible future is far different than the powerpoint proposals that NASA and big government have offered to us over and over again for the past four decades. Those ideas, while also ambitious, could never happen because they were dependent on the approval of too many other players, Congress, the public, the press, the bureaucracy. They were not founded on profits, so they became a drain on the economy instead of a source of wealth. The result was that we have gone nowhere and developed little new space technology in the years since the last Apollo landing.

Only now, with our renewed reliance on capitalism and profits, are we finally beginning to see the dreams expressed in those NASA powerpoint proposals coming to life. And it isn’t the government that is making them happen, but free individuals, with big dreams and the will to pursue them.

Expect there to be privately funded manned missions to Mars in the next decade. And expect there to be factories in orbit, far sooner than anyone expects.

Blue Origin selects company to build its rocket factory

The competition heats up: Blue Origin has selected the construction company that will build its Florida rocket manufacturing facility.

This decision indicates that Blue Origin is now very confident in the designs of both its New Shepard capsule/rocket and its BE-4 rocket engine, and knows enough about both to begin committing money and resources to manufacturing both repeatedly.

Aerojet Rocketdyne pitches its AR1 rocket engine to reporters

The competition heats up: At a space conference this week Aerojet Rocketdyne pitched its AR1 rocket engine, still under development, as the ideal replacement for the Russian engine in the Atlas 5.

The U.S. Air Force awarded Aerojet Rocketdyne a contract in February worth up to $534 million over five years to certify and start delivering flight-ready AR1 engines in 2019. Aerojet Rocketdyne says it already has kicked in $70 million, with its total investment expected to exceed $250 million over the life of the contract.

Van Kleeck, vice president of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s advanced space and launch business unit, said the Air Force contract — the largest of several propulsion-related awards the service has made in recent months — is a sign of the Air Force’s confidence in the AR1’s ability to provide an expedient replacement for the RD-180 engine the Defense Department is under pressure from Congress to stop using.

United Launch Alliance, however, has anointed Blue Origin’s methane-fueled BE-4 engine as the front runner to replace the RD-180 by serving as the main engine for the Denver company’s next-generation rocket Vulcan.

“The AR1 engine can fly both on an Atlas and Vulcan and it’s the only engine that can do so,” Van Kleeck said.

Aerojet has been losing business to the newer commercial space companies like Blue Origin, and desperately needs to find a customer for the AR1. In the long run the Air Force contract won’t suffice, as it really is no more than government corporate welfare and cannot sustain them as a company. This press conference was part of that effort.

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