Blue Origin reveals redesigned New Glenn rocket


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Capitalism in space: In a video animation Blue Origin last week revealed a new redesigned version of its orbital New Glenn rocket.

There are a few notable differences between the rocket depicted in the new video and the New Glenn we saw in a similar 2017 animation. For example, the older version featured a payload fairing — the protective nose cone that surrounds spacecraft during launch — that was bullet-shaped and 18 feet (5.4 meters) wide. The current incarnation boasts a 23-foot-wide (7 m) fairing with a traditional snub-nosed look. (A previously envisioned three-stage New Glenn featured this bigger fairing, but this booster variant is no longer part of Blue Origin’s plans.)

And the first stage’s six landing legs will apparently now deploy a bit differently — by unfolding outward from the bottom, much as Falcon 9 legs do, rather than sort of sliding downward.

These changes are almost certainly are the result of the company’s Air Force contract that gave it $500 million in development money in exchange for having a say in how the rocket is built.

For example, I am not surprised that New Glenn now more closely resembles the Falcon 9. The modern American military is not known for its daring or innovation. It had to be sued to finally agree to award contracts to SpaceX. Now that the Falcon 9 is well proven, however, the military bean-counters are probably demanding that New Glenn copy it, rather than introduce innovations of its own.

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8 comments

  • Richard M

    Honestly, I’m surprised that they didn’t make the fairing the same diameter as the first and second stages (7m) in the first place.

    It’s a smart move, because it will broaden the cohort of payloads (including some that the Falcons will not be able to accommodate) they can carry, for a fairly nominal cost increase in fairing production cost and mass – and without having to hammerhead it.

    There is a great deal we don’t know, but the changes we know about look like real improvements. I’m looking forward to New Glenn getting off the ground, because we really do need genuine competition that also makes aggressive use of reusable stages, and so far New Glenn is the only other game in town. That’s what will keep reducing launch costs.

  • Kirk

    Another difference from the 2017 video is the shift from a single engine upper stage using a vacuum version of the combustion tap-off cycle BE-3 to a dual engine one using a pair of redesigned open expander cycle BE-3U engines.

  • Jason Hillyer

    The military also weighed in on the Space Shuttle’s design, demanding the larger delta wings. This wing enabled it to fly polar orbits (which it never did), but also doubled the surface area that required the pesky heat resistant tiles.

    My point is, the military demanded changes to this vehicle, but they were never used. All they did was greatly increase the turn around time for the next flight.

    If I were Blue Origin, I wouldn’t allow groups who lack innovation (as you say the military does), to make design changes, but I understand the $500 million must be hard to turn down.

  • Jason Hillyer wrote: “I understand the $500 million must be hard to turn down.”

    SpaceX did turn it down however, for exactly the reasons you cite.

  • Col Beausabre

    Could I suggest the Golden Rule is at play ? “He who has the gold, makes the rules” or as the Scots put it, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” And they are but versions of one of the most basic ideas of commerce, “The customer is always right”. Biggest example I can think of was the Lockheed Constellation, which was designed to the specs of Howard Hughes’ TWA. The result was a classic airliner, 850 or so sold, so customer influence isn’t always bad. In the Connie’s case, it pushed the envelope beyond the DC4.

    “Lockheed had been working on the L-044 Excalibur, a four-engine, pressurized airliner, since 1937. In 1939, Trans World Airlines (TWA), at the instigation of major stockholder Howard Hughes, requested a 40-passenger transcontinental airliner with a range of 3,500 mi (5,600 km) – well beyond the capabilities of the Excalibur design. TWA’s requirements led to the L-049 Constellation, designed by Lockheed engineers including Kelly Johnson and Hall Hibbard. The Constellation series was the first pressurized-cabin civil airliner series to go into widespread use. Its pressurized cabin enabled large numbers of commercial passengers to fly well above most bad weather for the first time, thus significantly improving the general safety and ease of air-travel. Three of them served as the presidential aircraft for Dwight D. Eisenhower.”

    And Boeing’s 707 was fundamentally altered, “The 132 in (3,352.80 mm) wide fuselage of the Dash 80 was large enough for four-abreast (two-plus-two) seating like the Stratocruiser. Answering customers’ demands and under Douglas competition, Boeing soon realized this would not provide a viable payload, so it widened the fuselage to 144 in (3,660 mm) to allow five-abreast seating and use of the KC-135’s tooling”

    The attitude of “We know better than the customer” (with a condescending pat on the head) is not the way to commercial success. In this case, the military knows the size of cargo it intends to launch, it would be insane not to issue an RFP listing the requirement. You want the government to pull away from ULA ? Then you’re going to have to accept that its requirements as the big dollar customer are going to be reflected in the designs of those who wish to do business with it.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    The change in the shape of the payload fairing is mostly dictated by the need to be able to loft a pair of large communication satellites with quad 5 meter fixed mesh reflector antennas in one launch.

    The internal diameter of the revised New Glenn payload fairing is 6.2 meters. Which is much wider than the current EELV class internal payload fairing diameter of 4.6 meters.

    https://www.harris.com/sites/default/files/downloads/solutions/more_volume_more_value_whitepaper_.pdf

  • Wodun

    Perhaps companies like Bigelow can benefit from the wider fairing.

  • Edward

    Col Beausabre wrote: “so customer influence isn’t always bad.

    This is true, but in the space industry the main customers have been governments, so the commercial satellite operators have had to settle for the rockets for which governments have set the design and operational requirements. Even ULA’s current two rockets were designed for government use, not commercial use, which explains why commercial satellites have been launching mostly on foreign (often subsidized) rockets.

    SpaceX took feedback from commercial operators to design the Falcons for low cost launches. Since it was funding its own rocket development, it also needed to use methods that reduced development cost. SpaceX also responded to the call for reusable rockets. Since the single-stage-to-orbit attempts of the 1990s failed, SpaceX tried the previously-doubted reusable first stage. Once again keeping the development costs low. As it looked more and more like the reusable first stage would work, other companies began to investigate ways to reduce their own customers’s launch costs, helping to reduce the cost of space exploration and use.

    Wodun,
    That was my first thought, too. SpaceX’s fairing is too small for the B330, so Bigelow has been counting on the ULA rockets for launch.

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