Tag Archives: BE-4

Bezos provides 1st BE-4 engine update in more than a year

Yesterday Jeff Bezos posted the first status update since last spring on the development of the BE-4 rocket engine by Blue Origin, posting one image and stating that the engine testing continues.

According to his post, the engine had just completed a full power test, and has been accumulating test time.

This update is very reassuring, especially following such a long period of silence, beginning in April 2018. Before that Blue Origin had provided somewhat regularly updates.

In reviewing my past posts, it appears that the updates more or less ceased once ULA announced its decision to use the BE-4 in its Vulcan rocket. I now suspect the earlier updates were aimed more at ULA than the public, and once the decision was made Blue Origin returned to its more traditional tight-lipped approach.

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Update on development status of ULA’s Vulcan rocket

Link here. Overall the rocket seems to be on track for its planned April 2021 launch, except it appears ULA has decided to do that launch without two new components of the rocket that previously were planned, delaying their implementation.

First, it appears that Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine might not power the rocket’s first stage in its initial flights. It seems that both companies want that engine to first fly on Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, whose first launch is not set until 2021 as well.

This delay in the engine’s use has me wondering whether ULA has gotten cold feet about Blue Origin and its engine. It certainly seems to me that progress at Blue Origin has slowed considerably in the past year. For example, they promised manned flights of New Shepard that did not happen, and testing on the BE-4 seems to have gone underground.

In fact, the combination of increased hype and lack of progress has made Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos remind me increasingly of Virgin Galactic and Richard Branson, that team of endless unmet promises.

Second, it appears ULA has given the recovery and reuse of Vulcan’s first stage engines a very low priority. The technique they had chosen was to have the engines separate from the tanks and return to Earth by parafoil, protected by an inflatable heat shield. However,

A technology demonstration payload for the inflatable heat shield, which could also be used to deliver payloads to the surface of Mars, is slated to fly as a rideshare payload with NOAA’s JPSS-2 satellite aboard an Atlas V launch no earlier than 2022. [emphasis mine]

In other words, that reusable technology probably won’t be operational until well into the 2020s. Vulcan will likely be completely expendable for at least the first five years of its use.

ULA apparently has decided to take the safe technology route. Financially secure because of a $1 billion Air Force development contract to pay for Vulcan, combined with the military’s obvious desire to favor them in the awarding of future launch contracts, the company doesn’t have any incentive to innovate in any way to lower costs.

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Blue Origin unveils proposed lunar lander

Capitalism in space: Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Blue Origin, today unveiled his company’s proposed lunar lander, dubbed Blue Moon, that Bezos claims will land on the Moon by 2024.

It harnesses many of the same ‘propulsion, precision guidance, vertical landing and landing gear systems’ utilized by New Shepard, Blue Origin’s rocket meant to ferry humans to the moon. The craft is equipped with fuel cells to provide ‘kilowatts of power’ that are capable of lasting for long-distance missions. Once Blue Moon arrives at its destination, it uses machine learning algorithms to land with precision on the lunar surface.

Blue Moon can deliver several metric tons of payload to the moon, thanks to its top deck and lower bays, the latter of which will allow for ‘closer access to the lunar surface and off-loading,’ the firm said.

With this technology, Blue Origin hopes it will prepare us to be able to send humans back to the moon as soon as 2024.

The article also mentions a new rocket engine that Bezos said Blue Origin is developing, called the BE-7, specifically designed for these lunar landers.

Blue Origin is clearly lobbying to get the job of building the lunar landers NASA needs and has said it will buy from the private sector. And its New Shepard reusable suborbital craft, with a booster that has successfully landed vertically now eleven times, shows that it understands this technology.

Nonetheless, I must admit that Bezos is beginning to remind me of Richard Branson, big with promises but late on delivery. New Shepard was going to start flying humans in 2017, then 2018, now this year. New Glenn was supposed to fly by 2020. They have now delayed that until 2021. Development of the BE-4 engine that Blue Origin wants to use in New Glenn and also sell to ULA for its Vulcan rocket seems to have stalled. The last update on its status was more than a year ago, which was also about the time of the last mention of any engine tests. They could be keeping things quiet, but I wonder. At that time they appeared close to certifying the engine for flight. They have never announced that this has happened, though ULA subsequently did choose the engine for Vulcan.

In fact, in writing the last paragraph and reviewing my posts on Behind the Black, I realized that there has been little or no press for the past year on either New Glenn or BE-4. I wonder why. I can’t imagine any reason at all for not announcing the engine’s certification as operational, yet no such announcement has ever been made.

Anyway, if Blue Origin delivers on today’s hyped-up press announcement, it will be very exciting. He definitely is pushing the right buttons for getting the government work from NASA.

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Blue Origin changes engines for New Glenn second stage

Capitalism in space: In order to maintain its goal of launch its orbital New Glenn rocket by 2020, Blue Origin has changed the engine it will use in the rocket’s second stage from a version of its main BE-4 engine to new version of their already developed BE-3 engine, used in their reusable New Shepard suborbital spacecraft.

A Blue Origin executive told SpaceNews the company is shelving development of a vacuum-optimized version of BE-4 and will instead use vacuum-optimized versions of flight-proven BE-3 engines for New Glenn’s second stage and optional third stage. “We’ve already flown BE-3s, and we were already in the development program for BE-3U as the third stage for New Glenn,” said Clay Mowry, Blue Origin’s vice president of sales, marketing and customer experience. “It made a lot of sense for us to switch to an architecture where we get there faster for first flight.”

The BE-3U is the upper stage variant of the liquid hydrogen-fueled BE-3 engine that has powered Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard spacecraft on seven suborbital test flights since its 2015 debut. Mowry said switching to the BE-3U for New Glenn’s second stage will allow Blue Origin to conduct the rocket’s first launch in the fourth quarter of 2020. He declined to say how much time the engine change saves compared to the original configuration.

This quiet change, which the company made with no fanfare, carries with it some significant information as well as important ramifications. First, the BE-3 engine is less powerful than the planned BE-4, which is why they will use two BE-3 engines in the second stage instead of one BE-4, while also extending the length of the stage to accommodate more fuel. Though they claim the change will increase the rocket’s range, I suspect however that even with these changes New Glenn’s overall orbital payload capacity will be reduced.

Second, the change indicates that development of the BE-4 engine is proceeding slower than expected, threatening their 2020 launch goal. They have had one test failure that set them back, and the change suggests to me that they are having issues with making the engine restartable.

Third, if they have problems making the BE-4 engines restartable, this means their plans to reuse the first stage of New Glenn will be impacted. While those first stage engines do not need to restart on any single flight, reusing them requires this capability.

Fourth, problems with the BE-4 might cause ULA to reject it and choose Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR-1 engine for its new Vulcan rocket. Up to now ULA has indicated it prefers the BE-4. These issues might change that.

Fifth, this change, combined with the continuing lack of New Shepard test flights, suggests that the company is increasingly considering abandoning this suborbital spacecraft.

I am doing a lot of speculating here, and could be very wrong on many if not all of these suppositions. We shall have to wait and see.

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Bezos releases video of BE-4 static fire test

Capitalism in space: Jeff Bezos today released a video of a 114 second engine test of Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine.

I have embedded the video below the fold. The test was at 65% power, but it strongly suggests that the company is getting close to certifying this engine for use, which will then allow ULA to make its final decision on whether to use it in its Vulcan rocket. It also will allow Blue Origin to begin construction of its own New Glenn rocket, which is set to begin flights in 2020.
» Read more

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Blue Origin completes another test of its BE-4 rocket engine

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin has released a short video showing a recently completed successful static fire test of its BE-4 rocket engine.

You can see the test here. The article above actually doesn’t provide much information about the engine’s testing program, other than claiming that the company is ramping up its testing.

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Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine still leads race with Aerojet Rocketdyne

Capitalism in space: An independent assessment of the development work being done by Blue Origin and Aeroject Rocketdyne on their competing rocket engines says that Blue Origin is still in the lead by two years, despite a testing incident in May.

The article also outlines how the present Air Force budget includes language that would prevent the Air Force from financing any part of ULA’s Vulcan rocket, other than the money presently being spent to subsidize Aeroject Rocketdyne’s AR-4 engine.

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Blue Origin to build its rocket engines in Alabama

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin announced today that it will build its BE-4 rocket engine factory in Alabama.

There is one caveat. They will only commit to the factory once they have won their contract to build the BE-4 engine for ULA’s Vulcan rocket. And that contract is not yet awarded.

Obviously, this decision has political components. By picking Alabama, Blue Origin hopes to blunt the political favoritism in Alabama to Aerojet Rocketdyne’s rocket engine, thus improving their chances of winning the ULA contract.

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Engine test of Blue Origin BE-4 engine goes bad

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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ULA prepares to choose engine for Vulcan

Capitalism in space: ULA’s CEO Tory Bruno announced at a space conference this week that should Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine pass its testing phase his company will be prepared to select it for their Vulcan rocket.

Bruno also said that no decision has yet been made, and that Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1 engine remains an option, though it is 18 to 24 months behind in development.

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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.

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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.

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Development of Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine moves forward

The competition heats up: Blue Origin has completed more than 100 development tests of its new BE-4 rocket engine, being developed for ULA.

Much of this announcement sounds like public relations blather. However, it contained this nugget of information that is crucial to understanding why this engine is likely to get built quickly:

The BE-4 engine is also the leading candidate to be used in the first stage of ULA’s Vulcan vehicle. Speaking to reporters after the Sept. 15 Florida event, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos said that while he was aware of competing engines for the Vulcan, like the AR-1 under development by Aerojet Rocketdyne, he was focused on completing the BE-4. “We’re going to build the best 21st century engine that we can for ULA,” he said. “Ultimately they will make the decision about what they want to do.”

Bezos also noted that, unlike the AR-1 or other concepts, Blue Origin was not seeking funding from the U.S. Air Force to help pay for development of the BE-4. “The most unique feature of the BE-4 engine is that it’s fully funded,” he said. “It’s not something you see in rocket engine programs very often.” [emphasis mine]

Aerojet Rocketdyne wants the government to pay for its new AR-1 engine. To get that done, they need to lobby Congress for funds that are simply unreliable in these days of budget-cutting. Moreover, it means that Aerojet Rocketdyne is not fully committed to the engine: if the funds don’t arrive they won’t build it.

Blue Origin is going forward, fully committed, and will likely deliver, if only because they can’t get their investment back until they do.

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