Blue Origin Commercial Crew Development Status Report

At Blue Origin’s West Texas facility, the BE-3 engine demonstrated a full simulated suborbital mission profile, igniting, throttling, and restarting on command. (Credit: NASA)
At Blue Origin’s West Texas facility, the BE-3 engine demonstrated a full simulated suborbital mission profile, igniting, throttling, and restarting on command. (Credit: NASA)

NASA has announced an extension of its unfunded Space Act Agreement with Blue Origin that adds three unfunded milestones to the space agency’s collaboration with founder Jeff Bezos’ space company. Those milestones include additional testing of a propellant tank, the BE-3 engine and the pusher escape system.

NASA also announced the completion in September of the Space Vehicle Subsystem Interim Design Review. The milestone included a review of space vehicle subsystem design progress with emphasis on power and actuation systems, in-space propulsion, multiplex avionics, flight mechanics and GN&C.

Blue Origin began its partnership with NASA in 2010. To date, it has received $25.38 million in funding from the space agency. All work since 2012 has been conducted with NASA expertise but without direct funding from the agency.

Blue Origin Space Act Agreements Milestones
Award Period: 2010 – 2015
Milestones: 23
Milestones Completed: 20
Milestones Remaining: 3
Total Amount Awarded: $25.38 million
Total Amount Remaining: $0

A1Project Kickoff Meeting. A meeting to brief NASA personnel on the pusher escape system maturation plan.March 2010Complete$835,000
A21-DOF TVC Plan. Conduct test firing of full-scale demonstration SRM integrated with TVC system on 1-degree of freedom trust measurement stand.July 2010Complete$835,000
A36-DOF TVC Plan. Conduct test firing of full-scale demonstration SRM integrated with TVC system on 6-degree of freedom trust measurement stand.October 2010Complete$835,000
A4Rocket Sled Test. Conduct non-separating test of full CC OML and mass simulator on rocket sled track.March 2011Complete$0
B1Composite Pressure Vessel Maturation Kickoff Meeting. A meeting to brief NASA personnel on the implementation plan.March 2010Complete$290,000
B2Test Article Composite Parts Received. Receive all parts necessary to complete assembly of one composite pressure vessel, closing supplier risk.May 2010Complete$290,000
B3Test Article Assembly Complete. Completion of the test article.August 2010Complete$290,000
CCDEV 1 TOTAL:$3,375,000
1.1Space Vehicle Kickoff Meeting. A meeting at Blue Origin headquarters in Kent, WA to brief NASA personnel on the project implementation plan.May 2011Complete$905,000
1.2Space Vehicle Mission Concept Review. A review of the Space Vehicle Mission Concept.September 2011Complete$900,000
1.3Space Vehicle Systems Requirements Review. A review of systems requirements for the Space Vehicle.May 2012Complete$900,000
2.1Pusher Escape Kickoff Meeting. A meeting to brief NASA personnel on the pusher escape implementation plan.May 2011Complete$2,000,000
2.2Pusher Escape Vehicle #1 Shipment. Assembly of the first Pusher Escape Flight Test Vehicle is complete, except for installation of the pusher escape subsystem and separation mechanisms. Shipment to test range.December 2011Complete$2,000,000
2.3Pusher Escape Ground Firing. Conduct an initial ground test of the pusher escape rocket motor and thrust vector control system to be used during the flight test campaign.January 2012Complete$3,000,000
2.6Escape Pad Escape Test. Conduct a test of one of the fight test vehicles simulating an escape from a booster on the launch pad.April 2012Complete$1,900,000
3.1Engine Kickoff Meeting. Meeting to brief NASA personnel on engine risk reduction implementation plan.May 2011Complete$3,400,000
3.2Engine TCA and Test Plan Review. Meeting to review test article interface data, Interface Control Diagram (ICD) and test plan.September 2011Complete$4,000,000
3.4Engine TCA Test. Conduct pressure-fed test of the full-scale thrust chamber assembly (TCA).May 2012Complete$3,000,000
CCDEV 2 TOTAL:$22,005,000
3.6BE-3 Engine Test. Conduct a test firing of the pump-fed engine simulating a sub-scale booster suborbital mission duty cycle (MDC).September 2013Complete$0
3.7Subscale Prop Tank Assembly Review. Conduct a review of the design, manufacture and assembly of a subscale booster propellant tank.December 2013Complete$0
1.4Space Vehicle Subsystem Interim Design Review. Review space vehicle subsystem design progress with emphasis on power and actuation systems, in-space propulsion, multiplex avionics, flight mechanics and GN&C.March 2014Complete$0
Propellant Tank Testing. Additional testing of the propellant tank.Pending$0
BE-3 Engine Test. Additional testing of the pump-fed BE-3 engine.Pending$0
Pusher Escape System. Additional testing of the pusher escape system designed to save the crew from a malfunctioning booster.Pending$0

  • windbourne

    Hopefully, in the next several years, or less, they will have a launch system for going to LEO. That would then mean that the US has at least 3 different launch systems for humans to space.
    Now, can they continue to exists on current traffic to ISS? Not a chance. So, what is really needed is to get more going. Hopefully, Bigelow will launch sooner, rather than later. What is needed is to have multiple destinations. And several different spacestations in LEO is ideal for a number of things, including training.

  • Kirk

    I assume that their engine to orbit will be the BE-4 methane/LOX engine which they are now developing with ULA as an RD-180 replacement. They are targeting its first launch in 2019. I wonder if Blue Origin will construct their own first stage or if the new partnership will give them relatively cheap access to the Atlas VI.

  • windbourne

    good questions.
    However, I would think that they want to do their own launch system.

  • Stuart

    Has anyone any idea of Blue Origin’s timescale for first manned launch yet?

  • Saturn13

    Pump fed BE-3. An electric motor driven pump? I found this:Designed and developed in-house by Blue Origin at the company’s research
    and development center outside Seattle, the BE-3 features a “tap-off”
    design, in which the main chamber combustion gases are used to power the
    engine’s turbopumps. Tap-off is particularly well-suited to human
    spaceflight because of its single combustion chamber and graceful
    shutdown mode.
    No separate turbo pump to fail. I hope the pusher escape is a test using the bi-conic not the sub-obital, unlike the one they have already done.
    I have come up with a destruct for solids that will not kill the crew with flaming chunks of rocket fuel if possible to do. I read about a suggestion to blow out the top dome. This would reduce the amount of material, maybe no flame, that the crew would run into and may work. I say to put the crew completely in the clear to go to the rear and eject the nozzle. Explosive bolts-nuts would release the whole thing. This open the thrust chamber to reduce the pressure and thrust near zero or at least enough to stop acceleration, with the core liquid shut down, the rocket would start heading for the ocean. That is if it was turned toward the ocean, unlike Antares that went straight up, right after it cleared the tower. There is no need to blast the motor in to small pieces. I do like NASA did with the foam, eliminate the pieces. There would be no flaming solid fuel to burn the parachutes or to run into, making an abort safe. I hope ATK can do this.
    So Bean Counter since you came up with this, how about it. Do you approve? I think my original approval of using SRB for Crew is now reinstated. With change solids would work very well. I hope India does this with their Crew launcher. Also NASA, Boeing and SNC.

  • Aerospike

    Warning: Nonsensical comment detected!

  • Solartear

    Atlas VI will not be re-usable, and RD-180 is only like $12million, so no price drop with new engine.

    Blue Origin wants re-usable, and needs cheap to compete with SpaceX. They will continue to develop a fast,easy,cheap re-usable rocket while benefiting from their engines getting real flight experience on Atlas VI.

  • DavidR2014

    OK / Cancel

  • DavidR2014

    I’m not sure if we know if they are going to do LEO first or sub-orbital.
    My impression, from what little is in the public domain, was that they would do a sub-orbital RLV tube rocket, with an orbital style capsule on top. This would be fully reusable, and the capsule would separate from the rocket for return to earth. This would be used for tourism, zero g experiments etc. Then they would scale up the orbital RLV rocket, but keep the capsule to get an orbital RLV system.
    But I don’t know if they have changed their plans.

  • DavidR2014

    Agreed. Bezos looks like he is being ultra thorough with Blue origin and quite possibly prepared to spend billions of his own money before he starts to sell a product or service to the public.

  • Sam Moore

    The suborbital vehicle (New Shepard) is pretty well documented on their website, and is exactly as you describe. The only depiction I’ve seen of the orbital system (in Bezos’ patent on barge landing) appears to be pretty much a scaled-up New Shepard propulsion module.

  • Kraki

    I find their complete lack of public communication pretty uninspiring. Whatever great stuff they may or may not be doing, the last update on their website is 2 years old. (I know there are more recent news reports elsewhere)

    Their “bunker” mentality really rubs me the wrong way. Like “Oh, we’re SO awesome that we can’t tell you anything. Just wait a decade and then see.”

    Then again, I’m not a space industry insider, so maybe I just don’t get it.

  • Saturn13

    The orbital is a bi-conic capsule. It comes in nose first. It does not eject a service module to expose the heat shield. So it reuses every thing. TPS is on the bottom and nose. It is my favorite. SpaceX should have changed to it so they could do what they like and reuse everything. This is what they will have to do another pusher pad abort with.

  • Hug Doug

    they’re the opposite extreme of SpaceX, playing everything extremely close to the chest. most other companies fall pretty much in the middle, in terms of PR and news announcements.

  • Matt

    SpaceX major contracts (and therefore at the end the whole company) are mainly paid by taxpayer (even if this may change with time). Now the company will receive again 3.2 billion dollar of government money. Therefore, they have to report to the public. That is the exact opposite to BO, which has all rights to be quiet and silent by using Bezos’ own money, until he is going to decide the opposite.

  • Matt

    BO does not exist to entertain space cadets. Mr. Bezos can do with his own money what he like to do and it is his right to decide what shall be published and what not.

  • Hug Doug

    there’s no requirement to report to the public if you have government funding for a project.

  • Matt

    Maybe no official. But it was my objective to show the differences between SpaceX (which is considered by space cadets as “commercial”) and BO. I did not mentioned the massive support that NASA and Air Force (also paid by tax payers) have given to SpaceX (I know also BO got some support of NASA, but much much less).

  • Dennis

    So what, if BO had won a bid then they would have been the ones with all the government funding in their pockets. What is your point exactly?

  • Hug Doug

    you’re just plain wrong in your original assertion. SpaceX is under no obligation whatsoever to disclose information about itself, its rockets, or its operations to the public. it does so because it wants to promote itself to the public. it’s a marketing ploy! and why is it marketing itself?

    because SpaceX is indeed a commercial launch service. the government has subsidized its development, yes, but the government is also purchasing launches from it, just as anyone else can, and SpaceX wants as many customers as it can get.

  • Matt

    You are right; SpaceX does more PR work as delivering detail technical information to the public. Forget my original assertation, it started the point wrong. Originally,
    I am interested in a cold view on SpaceX and other companies, which are so called “new space”, because also in this case clear thinking shall be not stopped. No hype is a healthy thing.

    Yes, it might be cheaper if SpaceX does the job, instead NASA itself or ULA. But nevertheless, a major part of SpaceX revenues comes from taxpayer money
    (ISS cargo and so forth). I hope will change next years.

    Musk put only 0.1 billion into the company, very small money compared to the size of government input money that he received. Up to now is SpaceX not “new space”, just old subsidized “old space” only with new, cheaper rockets and capsules. Real commercial space means that there is a
    private market of payloads/space destinations and launch providers. The government set only the regulation, but put no money into it. It seems to that Mr. Bezos and Mr. Bingelow, which uses their own private money to a much larger degree as Musk are in the moment a bit more “commercial” in this way.

  • Hug Doug

    about half of all SpaceX launches have been not NASA related. two thirds of the flights scheduled for 2015 are not NASA related.

    you seem to be under the impression that the vast majority of the work that SpaceX does is for NASA / the US government, when this is not the case.

    Elon Musk has invested at least $100 million in SpaceX personally (though that number is from 2012). he has also had a lot of private investors contribute to the company.

    SpaceX is a commercial space launch provider. i don’t know why you don’t think it is.

    why don’t you think of the US government as just another investor?

  • Matt

    “why don’t you think of the US government as just another investor?”

    It is very different thing for me, if a private company/man risk its/his money or the taxpayer money is used (which is “collected” by government under threat of force) for private business (and profits). Foreign money (esp. taxes) is much easier wasted (and spendend for wrong purposes) as self-owned.

    Clearly, the government cannot or should not built all the stuff itself (bad example is SLS), which is needed or its objectives. But governmental expensives as contractor shall be limited to maximum extend as possible, only exception: internal and external security of the state.

  • Hug Doug

    So you’re saying that if the money is coming from the government, then SpaceX just wastes it?

    “governmental expensives as contractor shall be limited to maximum extend as possible, only exception: internal and external security of the state.”

    i think the money that has been spent on SpaceX falls squarely into that category. the ISS is a national priority and SpaceX has been contracted to support it.

  • Matt

    If there is
    no other choice, then it is better to give the money to SpaceX as to ULA. I think SpaceX
    was and is supported and financed in this way, because some parts of
    military-industrial complex (as ULA) becomes too fat, too expensive and less
    innovative in respect to space transportation in view of the military leader (Air Force). Elon Musk convinced that he can
    fill that gap and it seems that he can fulfill the set hopes. As Dr. Jeff Bell
    said, if the result of Musk’s crazy Mars ideas, which drives him, better and
    cheaper space launcher result at the end, then is that just fine.

  • delphinus100

    If anything, they’re the opposite of armadillo Aerospace, which used to put virtually everything but blueprints out there.