A Niche in Time: First Flight

Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo’s glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Part 5 of 5

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The morning of Dec. 3, 2016, began like so many others in Mojave. The first rays of dawn gave way to a brilliant sunrise that revealed a cloudless, clear blue sky over California’s High Desert.

This was hardly newsworthy. For most of the year, Mojave doesn’t really have weather, just temperatures and wind speeds. It had been literally freezing overnight; the mercury was at a nippy 28º F (-2.2º C) at 4 a.m. As for Mojave’s famous winds – an enemy of roofs, trees and big rigs, but the lifeblood of thousands of wind turbines that cover the landscape west of town – there really weren’t any. It was basically a flat calm.

In other words, it was a perfect day to fly.

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A New Market Emerges

SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure (Credit: SpaceX)

By Steven Siceloff,
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

NASA recently marked a decade since it began a new era in commercial spaceflight development for low-Earth orbit transportation. The space agency inked agreements in 2006 to develop rockets and spacecraft capable of carrying cargo such as experiments and supplies to and from the International Space Station.

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Bezos Opens Up Blue Origin Factory for First TIme

Blue_Origin_EmblemOn Wednesday, Jeff Bezos gave a tour of the Blue Origin factory in Kent, Wash., to a select group of 11 journalists. It was the first time the company had opened up its factory to the media.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • There will be a fourth test of the New Shepard suborbital rocket and capsule system soon;
  • Bezos said there will be an opportunity to witness a New Shepard flight later this year at the company’s test facility in Texas;
  • The New Shepard system flown in November was refurbished for a cost  “in the small tens of thousands of dollars” and re-launched in January;
  • Bezos says the company plans to rely the system until they lose it in an accident;
  • New Shepard will begin flying scientific payloads later this year;
  • The automated vehicle could begin flying test subjects in 2017, with space tourism flights to follow as soon as 2018;
  • An in-flight abort test is planned during which the New Shepard capsule will blast free from the launch vehicle at maximum dynamic pressure;
  • Six passengers will sit in recline seats, each facing a 3-foot tall large window to give them a view of space and Earth;
  • Passengers would be able to unstrap themselves to float around the capsule;
  • Bezos said the company will be thorough in testing New Shepard before placing anyone on board;
  • Blue Origin could eventually end up flying a small fleet of New Shepard vehicles dozens of times annually;
  • Bezos did not reveal pricing, but said thousands of people have registered interest in flying;
  • Blue Origin hopes to test its BE-4 engine by the end of this year;
  • The BE-4 engine will be used in United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, which is set to make its first flight in 2019;
  • Blue Origin also plans to use the BE-4 in its own launch vehicle, which is nicknamed “Very Big Brother”, beginning in 2020;
  • Bezos plans to reveal more details about the company’s rocket later this year;
  • The BE-4 engine will have 550,000 pounds of thrust, which is five times greater than the BE-3 motor used on New Shepard;
  • The BE-4 engine is being designed for a minimum of 25 uses;
  • The company has been quiet to avoid over promising and under delivering (“Space is really easy to overhype,” Bezos said);
  • The company’s logo features the motto Gradatim ferociter, which is Latin for “step by step, ferociously”, two tortoises representing the victory of the tortoise over the hare, and an hourglass symbolizing human mortality;
  • Blue Origin has 600 employees, with plans to grow to 1,000 within the next year;
  • Bezos has invested much more than 500 million in Blue Origin since he founded the company in 2000;
  • The Amazon.com founder’s goal is to spread humanity out into the solar system, making use of its vast resources and moving most heavy industry out into space;
  • Bezos says he is interested in Mars, but he believes the planet is a forbidding place that makes Antarctica looks temperate by comparison.

Sources

Jeff Bezos lifts curtain on Blue Origin rocket factory, lays out grand plan for space travel that spans hundreds of years
http://www.geekwire.com/2016/jeff-bezos-lifts-curtain-blue-origin-rocket-factory-vision-space/

Jeff Bezos pulls back the curtain on his plans for space
https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/jeff-bezos-pulls-back-the-curtain-on-his-plans-for-space/2016/03/09/a0716c7e-e5f4-11e5-a6f3-21ccdbc5f74e_story.html

Behind the curtain: Ars goes inside Blue Origin’s secretive rocket factory
http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/03/behind-the-curtain-ars-goes-inside-blue-origins-secretive-rocket-factory/

Jeff Bezos Lifts Veil on His Rocket Company, Blue Origin
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/09/science/space/jeff-bezos-lifts-veil-on-his-rocket-company-blue-origin.html?_r=1

Orbital ATK Pursuing New Solid Fuel Launch Vehicle

orbital_ATK_logoDULLES, Va. — Orbital ATK is working on a next-generation medium- to heavy-lift launch vehicle that it plans to have operational in 2019.

Details of the new booster were revealed last week in a $47 million contract awarded to the company by the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center Launch Systems Directorate.

The contract funds Orbital ATK for “the development of prototypes of the GEM 63XL strap-on solid rocket motor, the Common Booster Segment (CBS) solid rocket motor, and an Extendable Nozzle for Blue Origin’s BE-3U upper stage engine.”

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Blue Origin to Begin New Shepard Flight Tests Later This Year

With touchdown 1,630 feet from the launch pad, Blue Origin completed a successful test of its Crew Capsule escape system. (Credit: Blue Origin)
With touchdown 1,630 feet from the launch pad, Blue Origin completed a successful test of its Crew Capsule escape system. (Credit: Blue Origin)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Blue Origin plans to begin flight tests of its reusable suborbital New Shepard vehicle later this year from its West Texas facility, President Rob Meyerson said today.

The company also announced that it had completed acceptance testing on the BE-3 hydrogen engine that will power the suborbital capsule. The company said the engine has been fired for more than 30,000 seconds during 450 tests.

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Blue Origin Completes Acceptance Testing of BE-3 Engine

Blue Origin’s BE-3 engine throttles to its maximum 110,000-lbf thrust during acceptance testing at the company’s dedicated facility in West Texas. (Credit: Blue Origin)
Blue Origin’s BE-3 engine throttles to its maximum 110,000-lbf thrust during acceptance testing at the company’s dedicated facility in West Texas. (Credit: Blue Origin)

KENT, Wash., April 7, 2015 (Blue Origin PR) – Blue Origin recently completed acceptance testing of its BE-3 rocket engine, the first new hydrogen engine to be developed in the United States in more than a decade. The 110,000-lbf BE-3 will power Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital system, and later, will be modified for upper stage applications.

“The BE-3 has now been fired for more than 30,000 seconds over the course of 450 tests,” said Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin founder. “We test, learn, refine and then test again to push our engines. The Blue Origin team did an outstanding job exploring the corners of what the BE-3 can do and soon we’ll put it to the ultimate test of flight.”

The BE-3 can be continuously throttled between 110,000-lbf and 20,000-lbf thrust, a key capability for vertical takeoff and vertical landing vehicles. The testing profile included multiple mission duty cycles, deep throttling and off-nominal test points.

“Liquid hydrogen is challenging, deep throttling is challenging and reusability is challenging,” said Bezos. “This engine has all three. The rewards are highest performance, vertical landing even with a single-engine vehicle and low cost. And, as a future upper stage engine, hydrogen greatly increases payload capabilities.”

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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 Amazon.com 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

NO.DESCRIPTIONORIGINAL DATE
STATUSAMOUNT
COMMERCIAL CREW DEVELOPMENT 1
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
COMMERCIAL CREW DEVELOPMENT 2
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
UNFUNDED SPACE ACT AGREEMENT
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
TOTAL, ALL AGREEMENTS:$25,380,000

Video of Blue Origin Engine Test

Video Caption: Blue Origin recently performed a test of its BE-3 rocket engine as part of the company’s Commercial Crew Development Round 2 initiative with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). Blue Origin test fired the powerful new hydrogen- and oxygen-fueled American rocket engine Nov. 20. During the test, the BE-3 engine ramped up to full power and fired for more than two minutes to simulate a launch, then paused for about four minutes, mimicking a coast through space before it re-ignited for a brief final burn. The last phase of the test covered the work the engine performs in landing the booster back softly on Earth. Blue Origin’s Orbital Launch Vehicle will use the BE-3 engine to launch the company’s Space Vehicle into orbit to transport crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit.

CCP is aiding in the innovation and development of American-led commercial capabilities for crew transportation and rescue services to and from the station and other low-Earth orbit destinations by the end of 2017. For information about CCP, visit www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew.

Blue Origin Tests New Engine in Simulated Suborbital Mission Profile

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)

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) – Blue Origin reached a key milestone in the development of the liquid-fueled BE-3 engine by successfully demonstrating deep throttle, full power, long-duration and reliable restart all in a single-test sequence.  The BE-3 is the first completely new liquid hydrogen-fueled engine to be developed for production in the U.S. since the RS-68 more than a decade ago.

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