Tag Archives: Blue Origin

Space news catchup! Vega, Blue Origin, GOES-16’s lightning mapper, and more!

It’s been really busy lately, so I haven’t has as much time to post as I’d like.  So today I will make up for it with a bunch of space news updates!

First off, a rocket launch is always fun.  Arianespace’s Vega launcher placed the Sentinel 2B environmental monitoring satellite into orbit from Kourou, French Guiana:

Meanwhile, GOES-16 continues its commissioning phase.  As part of that, it has returned its first view of lightning from 22,000 miles away, a demonstration of its incredible capacity at this range.  The green lines represent the coast of Texas.  The lightning is all in real time, and is overlaid over an image taken at the same time by GOES-16’s revolutionary Advanced Baseline Imager.

This full-disk image was created from data from the same instrument, and shows total lightning energy recorded over a one-hour period (an hour which included the image above; that really bright spot in this image is the same storm system over Texas):

And then let’s go back to rockets!  Blue Origin unveiled their New Glenn rocket today with an animation depicting its flight profile.  It is definitely similar to the strategy SpaceX is using, but one difference is that the engine, BE-4, will also by flying on another rocket, ULA’s Vulcan.  Another difference is the strakes.  It looks quite lovely, and I hope we’ll get to see it fly soon.  They do already have a customer for it: the first flight customer will be Eutelsat.

And then, how about some good news on the political front?  Cutting NASA has long been a bipartisan pasttime, but the tides seem to be changing.  A strong bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives voted to pass the NASA Authorization Bill, the first time they’ve managed to do so despite annual attempts in the past six years.  (NASA has been operating under continuing resolutions instead.)  This bill budgets $19.5 billion for NASA in 2017.  Of course, now we have to see what actually gets appropriated; that’s a separate battle, and will start with the White House federal budget request.  So cross your fingers, space geeks!

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Ariane & New Shepard both fly!

Ariane V completed another flawless mission from Kourou, French Guiana yesterday, placing into orbit Sky Muster 2 for Australia and GSAT 18 for India.  Both are geosynchronous commsats, the mainstay of Ariane V’s customer base.

And also yesterday, Blue Origin completed the fifth flight of their New Shepherd reusable suborbital rocket.  This flight did continue to test the rocket, but that wasn’t the main focus.  This mission was an inflight abort test.  The booster did not simulate an emergency; after the spacecraft separated, it continued merrily along its way (albeit at lower thrust to compensate for the loss of mass) and returned neatly to Earth on its own.  The escape looked a bit, well, “blarg-tastic” is the word that came to mind for me, as it yawed around dramatically.  I would bet that Blue Origin will be studying the data from sensors inside to make sure G-loads didn’t exceed human tolerance; the point of an escape isn’t to be comfy, but to be survivable.  Nevertheless, this fifth flight is expected to be the final flight for this particular vehicle.

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New Shepherd flies a third time, and Opportunity spots a dust devil

First off, Blue Origins launched their fully reusable New Shepherd vehicle a third time.  The suborbital spaceflight was a complete success, moving them closer to a point where they can begin selling flights.

And then I have a cool Opportunity to pic to share, right after yesterday’s cool pic.  The rover spotted a bit of Martian weather: a dust devil!  This picture also does a great job of highlighting the challenging terrain the rover has been contending with.  It’s fortunately nice and smooth, but anything but level.

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Blue Origin successfully returns a rocket from the edge of space

In the long quest for a reusable flyback booster, Blue Origin has just made a big step forward with its New Shepard booster: they are now the first to fly a rocket past the Karman Line and into space, and then fly it back to the launch site for a precision landing on a designated pad.  The New Shepard  system includes a crew capsule that Blue Origins plans to market for suborbital spaceflights.  Although they have beaten SpaceX to this particular milestone, SpaceX is going for a different market, as their flyback Falcon 9 first stage is much larger must return from much farther downrange.  But on the other hand, Falcon 9 uses kerosene, a comparatively easy fuel, while Blue Origin uses liquid hydrogen, a fuel which few have mastered and which comes with significant density penalties.  It’s an impressive achievement, and Blue Origins has rightfully earned a spot in the history books.  They’ll ratchet it up a little more after they finish analyzing the flight data, because they intend to reuse this specific vehicle again.  If all goes well, once they start offering these flights to the public, they expect most of their customers to be millionaires with a bucket list, and universities wanting to run experiments requiring more microgravity than ZeroG’s parabolic flights can offer, but not costing as much as the ISS.

And also, Happy Thanksgiving to all the American readers!  I hope you have all had a chance to stuff yourselves properly today.  😉

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Introducing Vulcan: America’s next rocket

United Launch Alliance has released the name for their new launch vehicle to follow on from the legacies of Atlas and Delta: Vulcan.  It’s a good name, and I’m sort of pleased they’ve gone with another name drawn from mythology — right up there with Titan, Juno, Thor (Delta’s ancestor), Jupiter, Nike, and of course the mighty Saturn.  The first stage will be powered with methane, and ultimately ULA hopes to recover the engines (though not the entire first stage), perhaps via helicopter recovery — I would expect that design to evolve considerably before actual reuse begins, just as happened with SpaceX’s reusable flyback concept has evolved.  Blue Origin, the engine manufacturer, has confirmed the BA-4 engine is designed with reuse in mine.  Today, ULA released this sneak peek at the vehicle:

Incidentally, SpaceX was due to launch CRS-6 to the ISS today, but the weather was not cooperative.  Too many thunderheads near the Cape.  They will try again tomorrow.

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Major new rocket engine development

Following close on the heels of the CCtCap announcement, United Launch Alliance (which is jointly owned by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, and operates the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets) announced an exclusive partnership with the secretive space startup Blue Origin.  Blue Origin has been experimenting with rocket engines, but has played their cards close to their chest, making it difficult to independently assess their efforts.  That may be changing.  They will develop the Blue Engine 4 (BE-4) specifically to replace the Russian-built RD-180 that powers the Atlas V.

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It will be difficult to beat the $10 million price tag Energomash charges for the engine, and also difficult to beat the performance; Russia is presently the world leader in staged combustion kerosene/LOX engines.  Blue Origin has been working with methane, and this engine is expected to use liquified natural gas and LOX; this could mean substantial changes to the Atlas V’s tankage and the pad support equipment.  Still, it would help their competitiveness to free themselves from dependence on a Russian supplier, and reduce the risk of political meddling in the program, and it’s absolutely a good deal for Blue Origin.

Things are about to get interesting in human spaceflight again.  😉

SpaceflightNow: ULA taps Blue Origin for powerful new rocket engine

While we’re on the subject, Atlas V’s most recent launch was just yesterday. It lofted the mysterious CLIO satellite for an undisclosed US government customer.

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