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.

(more…)

Blue Origin Signs Geosat Launch for New Glenn

BANGKOK (mu Space PR) — mu Space Corp today announced at the 68th Annual International Astronautical Congress that they have entered into an agreement with Blue Origin to partner on a future launch of a geostationary satellite aboard their New Glenn orbital rocket. The launch is set to happen early in the next decade.

Commenting on the new partnership, mu Space CEO James Yenbamroong says, “We’ve decided to go with Blue Origin because we’re impressed with the company’s vision and engineering approach.”

(more…)

Blue Origin to Manufacture BE-4 Engines in Huntsville

BE-4 engines (Credit: Blue Origin)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce PR) — Blue Origin announced plans to manufacture its BE-4 engine in a state-of-the art production facility to be built in Huntsville, Alabama — the Rocket City.The new facility will be in Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second-largest research park, and construction can begin once an engine production contract with United Launch Alliance is awarded. The BE-4 is America’s next rocket engine and will power United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, once down-selected. The production of this engine would end the nation’s dependence on Russia for access to space for critical national security space systems.

(more…)

Bezos vs. Branson: Who is Winning the Race to Space?

SpaceShipTwo dumps water. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Clive Irving, senior consulting editor at Condé Nast Traveler, believes that Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin have zoomed ahead of Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic.

In his story, “Jeff Bezos Will Leave Richard Branson Behind in the Dust,” he writes

Let’s face it: by any rational measure so-called space tourism is a preposterously frivolous idea. Nonetheless, hundreds of thrill-seekers were willing to pay around $2,300 a minute for the ride as soon as Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic venture was launched in 2005. The first passenger-carrying flight was supposed to happen 10 years ago, in 2007. It slipped to 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013…now…maybe… next year.

But if once it seemed like an idea whose time would never come (leaving aside for the moment the issue of whether it ever should) Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin team—not Branson—now seems more than ever likely to be the first to deliver….

Whereas Branson over the years staged numerous junkets for the media in which success was claimed to be imminent, this April Bezos staged his first preview of the ride on Blue Shepard at the annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs with the warning that, “It’s a mistake to race to a deadline when you’re talking about a flying vehicle, especially one that you’re going to put people on.”

[….]

In less than a year of testing, Bezos has been able to do something that Branson has failed to do in more than a decade: demonstrate proof of concept….

Technically, New Shepard is the precursor of the much more ambitious New Glenn, Blue Origin’s multi-stage rocket program that will launch astronauts and satellites into orbit. (The Virgin Galactic design is an evolutionary dead end – it cannot be scaled up for orbital flight.) As he did with Amazon, Bezos has always had a very clear-eyed idea of what it would cost to get into the business, of the technical challenges, and of the time needed to master them.

It’s a good story that’s worth a read. I did notice one factual error: the tail stall and inverted spin that SpaceShipTwo experienced during a flight test occurred in 2011, not 2013.

Bezos Funding Blue Origin by Selling $1 Billion in Amazon Stock Annually

New Shepard crew capsule (Credit: Blue Origin)

This week, Jeff Bezos revealed how he is funding Blue Origins, when human flights on New Shepard will begin, and the approximate cost of developing the New Glenn launch vehicle.

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos said on Wednesday he is selling about $1 billion worth of the internet retailer’s stock annually to fund his Blue Origin rocket company, which aims to launch paying passengers on 11-minute space rides starting next year.

Blue Origin had hoped to begin test flights with company pilots and engineers in 2017, but that probably will not happen until next year, Bezos told reporters at the annual U.S. Space Symposium in Colorado Springs….

Blue Origin is developing a second launch system to carry satellites, and eventually people, into orbit, similar to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule.

Development costs for that system, known as New Glenn, will be about $2.5 billion.

Read the full story.

Save

Save

Jeff Bezos Muses About Those Underappreciated Engine Components – Bearings

Finding its bearing: Orbit plot with starting shaft location (red dot) marking each revolution as shaft spirals to its center during propellant fluid film pressurization. (Credit: Blue Origin)

By Jeff Bezos

Although the BE-4 turbopump is smaller than your refrigerator, it generates 70,000 horsepower from a turbine running at nearly 19,000 revolutions per minute that pumps cryogenic propellants to pressures just under 5,000 pounds per square inch. To react the forces generated by the rotating turbine and impellers inside the pump, production rocket turbopumps to date have used traditional ball and roller bearings. For BE-4, we’re doing something different – we’re using hydrostatic bearings.
(more…)

Bezos Provides More Details on New Glenn

Jeff Bezos unveiled a video simulation of a New Glenn launch (above) at the Satellite 2017 conference in Washington, DC, this morning. He revealed that Eutelsat is the first customer to sign up for a launch.

The booster is designed to lift 45 tons to low Earth orbit and 13 tons to geosynchronous transfer orbit. The first stage is also designed to be launched 100 times. It will have six landing legs.

I had hoped he would reveal something of his lunar delivery service plan that is circulating among policy makers in Washington, But, Bezos said not a word about it.

Bezos to Reveal Something on Tuesday

Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos is expected to announce something on Tuesday in a speech at the Satellite 2017 conference in Washington, DC.

I’m guessing it will be an elaboration on the company’s plans for establishing a base at the south pole of the moon. He also will likely provide updates on the testing schedule for the BE-4 engines (pictured above), development of the New Glenn booster, and construction of the company’s manufacturing facility in Florida.

The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

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.

(more…)

Trump Adds Commercial Space Advocate to NASA Transition Team

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

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 Journal reports 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.

(more…)

New Glenn Production Facility Under Construction in Florida

New Glenn production facility under construction in December 2016. (Credit: Blue Origin)
New Glenn production facility under construction in December 2016. (Credit: Blue Origin)

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.

New Glenn production facility. (Credit: Blue Origin)
New Glenn production facility. (Credit: Blue Origin)

I’ll keep you updated on our progress.

Gradatim Ferociter!

Jeff Bezos

Save

Program Updates from ISPCS

The second SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by WhiteKnightTwo on its first captive carry flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
The second SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by WhiteKnightTwo on its first captive carry flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

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.

(more…)

Jeff Bezos Unveils Plans for New Glenn Boosters

New Glenn is a reusable, vertical-landing booster with 3.85 million pounds of thrust, (Credit: Blue Origin)
New Glenn is a reusable, vertical-landing booster with 3.85 million pounds of thrust, (Credit: Blue Origin)

Our mascot is the tortoise. We paint one on our vehicles after each successful flight. Our motto is “Gradatim Ferociter” – step by step, ferociously. We believe “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” In the long run, deliberate and methodical wins the day, and you do things quickest by never skipping steps. This step-by-step approach is a powerful enabler of boldness and a critical ingredient in achieving the audacious. We’re excited to give you a preview of our next step. One we’ve been working on for four years.

(more…)