WASHINGTON, DC, February 2, 2017 (NAA PR) — The National Aeronautic Association announced today that four aerospace projects and accomplishments will compete for the 2016 Robert J. Collier Trophy.
For 105 years, the Collier Trophy has been the benchmark of aerospace achievement. Awarded annually “… for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America,” it has been bestowed upon some of the most important projects, programs, individuals, and accomplishments in history.
The governor’s office said the budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year starting July 1 includes $34 million for launch complex improvements that “will help attract more commercial activity to the area.”
Space Florida confirmed the total includes $17 million from the Florida Department of Transportation to help prepare Launch Complex 36, a state-run pad last used in 2005, into a site for Blue Origin’s giant New Glenn orbital rockets. The company also plans to build an engine test stand, incorporating the adjacent Launch Complex 11.
Blue Origin, the private space firm started by Amazon.com’s billionaire founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, will match the state’s investment, resulting in the $34 million budget figure cited by the state.
Bezos and Scott in September 2015 visited Launch Complex 36 to announce Blue Origin’s plans to build and launch rockets locally.
“The pad has stood silent for more than 10 years — too long,” Bezos said then. “We can’t wait to fix that.”
Robert Goddard’s first rockets used compressed gas to force the liquid propellants into the engine thrust chambers. While simple in design and a logical starting point, he quickly realized the limitations with this approach: it requires thick-walled heavy propellant tanks and limits the engine’s chamber pressure and performance, both of which limit payload capacity. The answer was turbopumps. Store the propellants in low-pressure light tanks, and then pump the propellants up to high pressure just ahead of injection into the main chamber.
For even more performance, you can add one or more boost pumps ahead of the main pumps. We’ve done that on the oxidizer side of our BE-4 engine. Our Ox Boost Pump (OBP) design leverages 3-D additive manufacturing to make many of the key components. The housing is a single printed aluminum part and all of the stages of the hydraulic turbine are printed from Monel, a nickel alloy. This manufacturing approach allows the integration of complex internal flow passages in the housing that would be much more difficult to make using conventional methods. The turbine nozzles and rotors are also 3-D printed and require minimum machining to achieve the required fits.
The OBP was first demonstrated last year in testing, where we validated its interaction with a main pump. The second iteration of the OBP for BE-4 is now in test. We’ve also just finished assembly of the unit that we’ll install for the first all-up BE-4 engine test.
We’ll keep you posted on how our BE-4 powerpack and engine testing progresses.
It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.
A New Direction for NASA?
NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.
Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.
Although orbital launch vehicles get all the glory (and infamy when they fail), 2016 was also a busy year for the far less glamorous suborbital launch sector. There were 19 suborbital launches at various sites around the world, and two more sounding rocket launches of note where the payload didn’t go above 100 km. (more…)
President elect Donald Trump has named commercial space backer Charles Miller to the NASA landing team amid reports that similar minded advocates will be added to transition group.
Miller is president of NexGen Space LLC, a company that advises clients on commercial, civil and national security space. He previously served as NASA’s senior advisor for commercial space.
The Wall Street Journalreports that Trump officials are also working on appointing Alan Stern, chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and Alan Lindenmoyer, who formerly managed NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program. Both nominations are in the process of being vetted for conflicts of interest.
Just a very short note to update you on the 750,000 square-foot New Glenn rocket factory we’re building in Florida. The team has made extraordinary progress—as you can see here, the first steel is now going up.
And again, here’s an image of what it will look like by the end of 2017.
For BE-4, not only do we have to design the engine itself, we also have to develop custom tools to make it. One of these tools is an automated electrical discharge machining (EDM) drilling machine. The EDM precisely locates and burns more than 4,000 tightly dimensioned holes into the nozzle and main combustion chamber, providing entry to the regenerative cooling channels.
As far as we know, this particular EDM machine is the only one of its kind in the world. It has 11 axes of motion allowing for precise hole location and accuracy within a few thousands of an inch. Its dual-head design results in reduced cycle time for the drilled holes. Brass multichannel electrodes are used to drill the holes. Water can be pumped through the electrode in order to speed up the drilling cycle. The use of water also helps flush the hole and remove the powder-like foreign object debris generated by the process. This eliminates the concern for plugging cooling channels, which can easily occur with conventional drilling methods. A pair of automated electrode-changing stations allows the EDM to continuously operate for long cycle times at an average rate of one hole every 90 seconds.
Building and operating custom tools of this magnitude is a big investment, but it’s critical for developing an engine that will power America’s access to space in the future.
A pretty wise investment, if you ask me.
PS: Blue Origin is hiring. Check out our Careers page and apply.
There’s been a lot of speculation since the election on what president-elect Donald Trump will do with the nation’s civilian and military space programs.
Two Trump advisors laid out some goals before the election: more commercial partnerships, boosting defense spending, increasing hypersonics and slashing NASA Earth science. However, most details remain unclear.
A key question is whether Trump really cares about space all that much. That’s a little hard to discern given his comments during the campaign.
When first questioned on the subject, he expressed a preference for fixing potholes in America’s crumbling streets over sending people to Mars. Trump has promised a large infrastructure repair program.
During a visit to Florida, he attacked the Obama Administration for allegedly wrecking NASA and the space program. During another appearance in the Sunshine State about a week later, Trump praised the space agency for how well it was performing.
So, NASA is either doing great, a disaster that needs to be made great again, or an obstacle to pothole repair. Assuming Trump actually cares, and he’s willing to spend some money on making NASA great again, what might he do? What major decisions does he face? (more…)
NASA and various commercial companies gave updates on their programs during the International Symposium on Commercial and Personal Spaceflight this week in Las Cruces, NM.
What follows are summaries that include:
suborbital programs (Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin)
commercial cargo (SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation)
commercial crew (NASA, Boeing, ULA).
The summaries are based on Twitter posts from attendees. A big thanks to Thanks to Tanya Harrison (@tanyaofmars), Frank Slazer (@FSlazer), Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust), Michael Simpson (@SpaceSharer), and Melissa Sampson (@DrSampson) for the coverage.
Video Caption: On October 5, 2016, we conducted an in-flight escape test of New Shepard’s full-envelope escape system at Blue Origin’s West Texas Launch Site.
This flight was our toughest test yet. We intentionally triggered an escape of the crew capsule in flight and at the most stressing condition: maximum dynamic pressure through transonic velocities. The test was conducted with the same reusable New Shepard booster that we had already flown four times.
Redundant separation systems severed the crew capsule from the booster at the same time we ignited the escape motor. The escape motor vectored thrust to steer the capsule to the side, out of the booster’s path. The high acceleration portion of the escape lasted less than two seconds, but by then the capsule was hundreds of feet away and diverging quickly. It traversed twice through transonic velocities – the most difficult control region – during the acceleration burn and subsequent deceleration. The capsule then coasted, stabilized by reaction control thrusters, until it started descending. Its three drogue parachutes deployed near the top of its flight path, followed shortly thereafter by main parachutes.
The capsule’s escape motor slammed the booster with 70,000 pounds of off-axis force delivered by searing hot exhaust. The aerodynamic shape of the vehicle quickly changed from leading with the conical capsule to leading with the ring fin, and this all happened at Max Q.
The booster was not explicitly engineered to survive an in-flight escape. The fact that the booster survived the escape, climbed to apogee and returned to execute its fifth controlled vertical landing is testament to the overall robustness inherent in its design.
Blue Origin conducted a successful abort test today in West Texas, with its New Shepard capsule separating from its booster 45 seconds after liftoff.
The capsule parachuted to the ground safely in what Blue Origin said appeared to be a nominal flight. The booster, which was not expected to survive the ignition of the escape motor, continued it ascent before touching down on the ground.
It was the fifth successful flight of booster and the seventh flight for the capsule. Both vehicles will be retired to make way for newer systems.