Will the Public Finally Get a Peek at Blue Origin’s Work?

My friend Clark Lindsey at Hobby Space found this update on Blue Origin’s work on creating a pusher escape system and composite vessel cabin. NASA funded the $3.7 million project in January as one of five grants given for commercial crew development (CCDEV).

The report indicates that the project is now more than 50 percent complete and directly generated 22.5 full-time jobs at Blue Origin. It indicates that “following completion of the CCDev activity, Blue Origin plans suborbital flight test at private expense.” The company also will conduct a drop test of the composite test cabin.

It will be interesting to see if we get videos released about the publicly-supported work being done by this highly secretive company. Blue Origin has released very little information about its New Shepard suborbital vehicle.

There should be something on the pressure vessel work, which NASA is co-funding. Although Blue Origin will pay for the suborbital test flight, it seems like this test would be required to prove that the pusher system actually works. It would be a shame to keep the result from the public.

Key excerpts from the status report follow.

Project Summary

Retiring Key Technology Risks for Orbital Space Flight: Two enabling technologies for the orbital Space Vehicle are the pusher escape system and composite pressure vessel cabin. Blue Origin proposes to use NASA co-funding to retire select development risks related to these technologies.

Pusher Escape System – The orbital Space Vehicle is reusable and incorporates full-envelope crew escape capability in the event of an anomaly on the launch vehicle. Historically, crew escape has been performed using an escape tower which must be jettisoned on every mission, including nominal missions not requiring escape. This jettison event introduces a flight safety risk on every mission because the tower jettison system becomes safety critical. Operations costs are also increased because the tower is fully consumed each mission.

Rather than a tower over the capsule, Blue Origin plans an escape engine mounted at the rear of the capsule in a ‘pusher’ configuration. The pusher escape system will remain with the vehicle, avoiding the flight-safety risk of the jettison event. The pusher escape engine will not be consumed in a nominal mission, and so can be reused from mission to mission, lowering costs. The pusher escape system differs substantially from the traditional escape system concepts.

Blue Origin proposes to use NASA co-funding to conduct TVC ground testing to measure thrust-vector gimbal angle and other measurements during typical escape mission duty cycles. Following completion of the CCDev activity, Blue Origin plans suborbital flight test at private expense.

Composite Pressure Vessel – The second risk mitigation activity for the orbital Space Vehicle is to conduct assembly and testing of a composite pressure vessel cabin, which will use composite panels bonded together. No such structure has ever flown in a similar space application. Blue Origin will evaluate the strength and leak-rate of the structure, as well as manufacturing challenge in the joint assembly.

To retire these risks by characterizing the structural margin in the integrated design, Blue Origin proposes to use NASA co-funding to: Manufacture a structural test article, which will serve as a subscale demonstrator for the orbital Space Vehicle, Pressurize the test article to evaluate the strength of the structural design, and Repair the test article and conduct a drop test to test cabin structural integrity.

Project Status:

More than 50% completed

Quarterly Activities/Project Description

In the second calendar quarter of 2010, Blue Origin substantially completed design and assembly of test articles necessary to meet project milestones, conducted briefings of NASA project management staff, completed project milestones A1 and B1, as well as received of all five composite pressure vessel parts for assembly to advance project milestone B2.

Jobs Created

22.5

Description of Jobs Created

Number of Jobs (Full-Time Equivalent) – Program Management: 1, Engineering: 14, Technician: 3.5, and Administrative: 4.0. All were retained jobs on Blue Origin payroll with the exception of two new created jobs (one technician and one engineering). The estimate does not include jobs created or retained by Blue Origin vendors contributing materials or services to the project.

Description of Job Categories:

Program Management – Persons engaged primarily in management and supervisory roles, including day-to-day management of project activities, oversight of budget and schedule, and reporting to NASA on project progress; Engineering – Persons primarily engaged in engineering design and analysis, purchasing, and management of vendors; Technician – Persons primarily engaged in manufacturing, machining, and assembly activities to support project objectives; Administrative – Persons providing administrative project support, including accounting/finance, information technology, legal, and secretarial support.

You can read the full report here.