Tag Archives: Blue Origin

Blue Origin’s ship for its 1st stage landings arrives in Florida

Capitalism in space: The ship that Blue Origin plans to restructure into a landing platform for the first stages of its New Glenn orbital rocket has docked in a Florida port.

The 600-foot cargo ship the Stena Freighter arrived in the Port of Pensacola on Thursday after making a transatlantic voyage from Portugal.

Blue Origin, the private rocket company started by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, will be using the ship as a landing platform for the company’s New Glenn rocket design expected to lift off in 2020 for its first test flight.

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith confirmed during the Aerospace Futures Alliance Summit on Oct. 10 that the Stena Freight would be used to land rockets, according to a report from the technology news website GeekWire.

The article does not provide much more information, other than a much bigger public announcement is planned about this in about a week.

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Blue Origin delays New Shepard and New Glenn

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin announced yesterday that they are delaying the first manned test flights of their suborbital New Shepard spacecraft until next year.

The announcement also outlined their planned test launch schedule for their orbital New Glenn rocket, now set to launch for the first time in 2021, delayed from 2020 as previously announced.

I find it interesting that the same day the Air Force announces that it is giving this company a half billion dollars for development of this rocket, the company reveals that it is delaying the launch for one year. To my mind, the extra money should have helped them keep their schedule, instead of causing a delay.

What instead happens in Washington, however, is that the subsidized companies now stretch out their program in order to get more government money, focused more on that cash then on building anything. Witness for example Boeing and SLS.

What makes this strange is that Blue Origin already has plenty of capital, to the tune of about a billion per year, from Jeff Bezos. His investment should really be plenty for this company to do what it needs to do.

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Air Force awards contracts to ULA, Northrop Grumman, Blue Origin

The competition heats up: The Air Force today announced contract awards to ULA, Northrop Grumman, and Blue Origin to help further the development of their new rockets.

The award to Blue Origin will be for development of the New Glenn Launch System. The award to Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems is for development of the OmegA Launch System. The award to United Launch Alliance will be for development of the Vulcan Centaur Launch System.

The Launch Service Agreements will facilitate the development of three domestic launch system prototypes and enable the future competitive selection of two National Security Space launch service providers for future procurements, planned for no earlier than fiscal year 2020.

The press release makes no mention of the amount of money being granted to these companies. Personally, I’d rather the government gave nothing until it actually bought real launch services from these companies, but it can only help the Air Force to have four different launch companies (when you include SpaceX) to draw upon. And the competition will force all four to reduce their costs and be creative.

Update: One of my readers in the comments below provided this link outlining the money granted for each contract, with ULA getting just under $1 billion, Northrop Grumman getting just under $800 million, and Blue Origin getting $500 million. This is not chicken-feed, and is in essence a subsidy for all three companies. The large amounts will act to discourage cost-savings, and in my opinion is a mistake. Whenever government bodies provide these kinds of subsidies prior to the deliver of services, the cost for the services inevitably is higher.

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ULA picks Blue Origin rocket engine for Vulcan first stage

Capitalism in space: ULA has chosen Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine to power the first stage of its next generation rocket, which they are now calling Vulcan-Centaur.

Two BE-4 engines will be used to power the Vulcan first stage. The press release does not mention anything about how they plan to recover these first stages. Earlier announcements had said that they would separate from the rocket stage and parachute down to be capture before hitting the ground.

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Has Aerojet Rocketdyne lost engine race with Blue Origin?

Aerojet Rocketdyne financial documents suggest that it has given up the bidding competition with Blue Origin to supply a rocket engine for ULA’s Vulcan rocket.

The latest financial release from aerospace manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne reveals that the company spent none of its own money on development of the AR1 rocket engine this spring. Moreover, the quarterly 10-Q filing that covers financial data through June 30, 2018 indicates that Aerojet may permanently stop funding the engine with its own money altogether—a sign the company has no immediate customers.

Although Aerojet will continue to receive some funding from the US military through next year to develop its large, new rocket engine, this money won’t be enough to bring it to completion. Instead of having a flight-ready engine for use by the end of 2019, the filing indicates that Aerojet now intends to have just a single prototype completed within the time frame.

Essentially this means ULA will have no choice but to pick Blue Origin’s engine, unless the Air Force pulls its weight and demands it take Aerojet rocketdyne, even if that means a significant delay before Vulcan can launch.

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First manned flights on Blue Origin’s New Shepard delayed to 2019

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin has now delayed the first manned flights on its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft into 2019.

They had said they would be doing manned test flights before the end of 2018, but these flights have not happened, and now they admit that they will be delayed until 2019.

Overall, the lack of test flights in 2018 is somewhat puzzling. They have a spacecraft that is built on a design that previously flew multiple times. Why should the second craft have problems causing such delays?

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Another successful test flight for second New Shepard suborbital spacecraft

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin today completed another successful test flight for its second New Shepard suborbital spacecraft.

This flight tested the capsule’s launch abort capabilities. It was also this spacecraft’s third flight. The link provides a replay of the full broadcast. I have embedded this below the fold. The launch is at about 29 minutes.

More info here.
» Read more

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Blue Origin to charge $200K for New Shepard tourist flights

Capitalism in space: According to a news report this week, Blue Origin plans to charge $200,000 to $300,000 per person for suborbital tourist flights on its reusable New Shepard capsule.

The company itself refused to comment on the story, which is based on two different anonymous sources.

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ULA picks Aerojet Rocketdyne engine for Vulcan upper stage

Capitalism in space: ULA has chosen an Aerojet Rocketdyne engine to power the upper stage of its next generation rocket Vulcan.

The company has not yet made a decision on the engine for the first stage, where Blue Origin’s BE-4 still appears favored over Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR-1 engine. This decision on the upper stage could partly be a political move, giving Aerojet the upper stage in order to make it easier to give the lower stage to Blue Origin.

ULA is forced to play politics here because politicians are involved. A number of power members of Congress want Aerojet Rocketdyne to get the business, and ULA risks offending these legislators should it abandon that company entirely.

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Successful test flight of New Shepard

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin today successful flew its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft on its second test flight.

You can watch the video of the full flight here. Try not to cringe listening to the announcer, who I think sometimes overdoes it.

They were aiming for a maximum altitude of 350,000 feet, which would place the capsule more than 100 kilometers or 66 miles above the Earth, the generally accepted altitude for the start of space. The live stream showed an maximum altitude of about 347,000, but the article says that later recalculations estimated a top altitude of 351,000.

Either way, they have now successfully achieved a safe suborbital spaceflight twice with this spacecraft, and both times carried science payloads. Meanwhile, their direct competitor, Virgin Galactic, has come no where close, even after fourteen years of development.

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Blue Origin to test fly New Shepard tomorrow

Capitalism in space: Jeff Bezos announced yesterday that Blue Origin plans to test fly New Shepard tomorrow on its first flight for 2018.

“Launch preparations are underway for New Shepard’s 8th test flight, as we continue our progress toward human spaceflight. Currently targeting Sunday 4/29 with launch window opening up at 830am CDT. Livestream info to come. @BlueOrigin #GradatimFerociter,” Bezos said via Twitter.

I am glad to hear this. The lack of flights has been puzzling. That they are moving forward again is good news.

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Blue Origin’s CEO gives an update on the company’s rockets

Link here. According to the CEO, Bob Smith, they are making good progress on developing their BE-4 rocket engine, and also expect to test fly New Shepard again in a few weeks.

In both cases, he admits that development has taken longer than expected. For example, in discussing New Shepard, he said the following:

Smith said Blue Origin is still planning to start flying people on its New Shepard suborbital spaceship by the end of the year, after further uncrewed tests. “We would have loved to have flown more, earlier, but the design incorporation didn’t go as quickly as we’d like it to,” Smith said.

I have no idea what he means by “design incorporation.” The bottom line however is that they have had issues that slowed things down.

The article provides a lot more details. Overall, while he says nothing that contradicts earlier reports, he provides a good summary of the company’s status.

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Delays in New Shepard program?

In an interview for a Seattle news outlet, a Blue Origin official inadvertently hinted that the program was experiencing delays. Her words:

New Shepard will be flying Blue Origin employees by the end of this year, assuming our test program continues to go well. Within the next year or two, we’ll have paying customers, which is really exciting.

This vague statement confirms an earlier statement by another Blue Origin official, that the first manned test flights will not occur until the very end of this year, and that paying customers might not fly until 2020. It appears that there might be issues that are causing the New Shepard project to slow down. It could be the hardware, or maybe the company is reconsidering the profitability of suborbital tourism. By 2020 both SpaceX and Boeing will have the capability of putting tourists into orbit. The price might be much higher, but a large percentage of the customers who could afford the suborbital flight could also afford the orbital flight, and if they need to pick many are going to go orbital, reducing the customer base for the suborbital business.

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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 gets its fourth launch contract for New Glenn

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin has signed its fourth launch contract for putting satellites in orbit with its New Glenn rocket, this time with the Japanese company Sky Perfect JSAT.

Blue Origin now has satellite launch agreements with four companies. Last year, the company reported deals with Eutelsat, OneWeb and mu Space. Today Blue Origin said its memorandum of understanding with Thailand-based mu Space has been converted into a firm contract for a geostationary satellite launch.

No launch price was revealed, though I suspect the price is very competitive with SpaceX prices.

I expect that by the mid-2020s, these two companies will be completely dominating the commercial large satellite market. The one threat to that dominance will be whether that large satellite market will be able to compete with the new tiny cubesat and nanosat market that is only now beginning to develop. It could be that by the mid-2020s, almost all unmanned communications satellites will be small, and that the market for these big rockets will have shifted to manned space.

More likely, we will have a very vibrant smallsat market, a vibrant largesat market, and a emerging manned market, all vying for launch contracts from many different rocket companies. Things should be quite exciting.

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Testing of Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine continues

Though he released few details, a Blue Origin company official noted at a conference last week that the company has been continuing its tests of the BE-4 engine.

“We’re getting longer duration burn times. We’re going though validating the turbomachinery very closely,” said Jim Centore, group lead for orbital mission operations at Blue Origin, during a panel discussion on launch systems at the conference. Centore didn’t disclose many details about those tests, such as thrust levels or the burn times, either of individual tests or cumulatively. “We’re continuing to make good progress,” he said. “We’ll continue that for the next several months.”

The BE-4 is the linchpin for numerous other future rockets. Blue Origin wants to use it for building its New Glenn rocket. ULA is considering it as the first stage engine for its Vulcan rocket. In both cases, design and construction of the rockets themselves can’t really proceed until the engine is locked down.

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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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Local Florida officials battle over $8 million grant to Blue Origin

Local county officials in Florida are involved in a court fight over the decision by the county to borrow $8 million in order to pay a grant to Blue Origin for locating its factory there.

Brevard County commissioners narrowly approved a plan that would allow the county to borrow money to pay for an $8 million economic incentive to rocket manufacturer Blue Origin. The vote was 3-2, with Chair Rita Prichett and Commissioners Jim Barfield and Curt Smith supporting the proposal. Vice Chair Kristine Isnardi and Commissioner John Tobia voted against the plan.

Brevard County Clerk of Courts Scott Ellis told commissioners he plans to go to court to challenge the legality of the county borrowing money to pay for the grant to Blue Origin.

Isnardi is quoted in the article as saying “I don’t think it’s a great policy to give $8 million to a billionaire.” The opposition to this grant also questions the legality of borrowing money to pay it.

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Blue Origin still a year away from launch humans on New Shepard

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin revealed yesterday that it will still be a year at least before they start flying humans on their suborbital New Shepard spacecraft.

The company plans to later fly humans, both as payload specialists for human-tended experiments as well as on tourist flights. Those flights, though, are still at least a year away. “We’re probably a year and a half, two years out from when we’re actually able to fly tended payloads,” Ashby said. “We’re about roughly a year out from human flights, depending on how the test program goes. We have a bunch more tests to do, and we’re going to fly some human test flights before we put paying people in the rocket.”

Previously they had suggested they would be flying humans much sooner, possibly this year. Despite this new delay, last week’s test flight did include Blue Origin’s first paying customers, and the company indicated that they have sold space on all their upcoming unmanned test flights, and that their manifest for those upcoming flights is essentially full.

Though I know many disagree with me, I am increasingly doubtful there will ever be a viable suborbital tourist business. Once commercial orbital manned flights become available, I don’t see there being much profitable interest in such short suborbital experiences. The cost will be too high in comparison with the payoff. And it appears that those commercial orbital manned flights are going to be arriving at about the same time as New Shepard’s first manned flight.

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Blue Origin releases video from inside capsule

Cool movie time! Blue Origin has released a video taken from inside this week’s test flight of its New Shepard capsule, showing the entire flight.

The link provides some information about some of the experiments the capsule also carried. I have embedded the video below the fold. Definitely worth watching.
» Read more

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Blue Origin successfully flies upgraded New Shepard capsule

Capitlism in space: Blue Origin yesterday successfully completed the first flight of its upgraded suborbital reusable New Shepard spacecraft.

Further details noted this test was called Mission 7 (M7), featuring a next-generation booster – powered by its BE-3 engine – and the first flight of Crew Capsule 2.0, a spacecraft that now features real windows, measuring 2.4 x 3.6 feet.

The test flight also carried 12 payloads and even a passenger – specifically an instrumented dummy brilliantly named “Mannequin Skywalker”.

Further details noted the flight time was 10 minutes and six seconds, launching at 10:59 a.m. CT from Blue Origin’s West Texas test site. The booster achieved Mach 2.94 on ascent & Mach 3.74 on descent. It again showed its landing skills, as shown on the video released by Mr. Bezos.

I have embedded the company’s video below the fold.
» Read more

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Blue Origin to resume New Shepard test flights next week?

Capitalism in space: An FAA airspace notice published yesterday strongly suggests that Blue Origin will resume test flights of its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft next week.

The Notice to Airman, or NOTAM, published by the FAA on its website Dec. 9 closes airspace above Blue Origin’s test site between Dec. 11 and 14, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern each day. The closure is to “provide a safe environment for rocket launch and recovery.” The NOTAM does not give additional details about the planned activities, but does identify Blue Origin as the point of contact regarding the airspace closure.

The flight will test a new capsule and propulsion unit, as the vehicle that was test flown multiple times in the previous test flights has been retired. What is interesting is that the company says it is building more than one. This will give them a fleet which will allow them a rapid launch rate.

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

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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Bezos sells another $1 billion in Amazon stock to fund Blue Origin

Capitalism in space: Repeating a stock sale he did in May, Jeff Bezos this week sold another million shares of his Amazon stock to raise another $1.1 billion in cash to finance his Blue Origin rocket company.

The stock sale reduced his holdings in Amazon by 1.3% to 16.4% total.

With this much cash available, Bezos has the luxury of developing and building his business with no help from the government and completely free to do whatever he wants. This freedom puts him in a very enviable position.

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Blue Origin successfully completes first test of BE-4 rocket engine

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin has successfully conducted the first static fire test of its BE-4 rocket engine.

The test was six seconds long. The company has not released any further details, other than to say it was a success. This not only puts them closer to building their New Glenn rocket, it increases the chances that ULA will choose this engine for its Vulcan rocket.

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Blue Origin considering military certification for New Glenn

Capitlism in space: Blue Origin is in discussions with military and national security officials in order to find out what the company must do to get its New Glenn rocket, presently under development, certified to bid on military launches.

Only a few days ago I speculated that Blue Origin might have a chance to bid on the Air Force’s new request for proposals for launches after 2022. This story confirms that they are thinking the same thing.

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Air Force releases request for launch proposals

Capitalism in space: The Air Force has released a new request for proposals for providing launch services after 2022.

The Air Force has released a request for proposal for its next iteration of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, known as EELV, to be used on space lift such as the Atlas V, Delta IV, and Falcon 9 rocket systems. The service said Thursday it plans to award “at least three agreements” for prototype development as part of its Launch Services Agreement strategy.

The news comes amid the Air Force’s attempt to move away from its use of Russian-made RD-180 engines.

Though I doubt Blue Origin will have launched enough to get certified by the Air Force when the contracts are awarded in 2020, expect them to demand a pie of the action soon thereafter.

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First Flight

The last part in Doug Messier’s series on the commercial aviation/space history, First Flight, is now available.

Messier brings his history of Virgin Galactic up to the present, and then compares their efforts to build a reusable suborbital spacecraft with that of Blue Origin and its New Shepard design. For Virgin Galactic, the comparison does not reflect well upon them. While fourteen years have passed since the company began its so far unsuccessful effort to reach suborbital space, Blue Origin has already done it multiple times, with a reusable ship. And it took Blue Origin about half the time to make that happen.

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