Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos has said he is spending $1 billion or more annually on his Blue Origin space venture.
The New Glenn family of orbital launch vehicles will carry astronauts and payloads to low-Earth orbit destinations and beyond. Similar to Blue Origin's suborbital vehicle, the first stage booster will separate and land back on Earth. Expendable second and third stages will propel the capsule into orbit, toward scientific research and exploration. At the completion of its flight, the capsule will reenter Earth’s atmosphere and land under parachutes, enabling reuse, improved reliability and lower cost access to space.
Rockets have been used for many years to launch human and non-human payloads into orbit. Such rockets delivered the first humans to space and to the moon, and have launched countless satellites into the earth's orbit and beyond. Such rockets are used to propel unmanned space probes and more recently to deliver structures, supplies, and personnel to the orbiting international space station. One continual challenge associated with rocket missions is the reusability of the system.
New Glenn is a step forward in mass and range, and its three-stage version will be able to fly missions beyond low-Earth orbit. New Glenn is 23 feet [7 meters] in diameter and lifts off with 3.85 million pounds of thrust from seven BE-4 engines. Burning liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen, these are the same BE-4 engines that will power United Launch Alliance's new Vulcan rocket. The two-stage New Glenn is 270 feet [82 m] tall, and its second stage is powered by a single, vacuum-optimized BE-4 engine. The three-stage New Glenn is 313 feet [95 m] tall. A single, vacuum-optimized BE-3 engine, burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, powers its third stage. The booster and the second stage are identical in both variants.
Fuel is carried in tanks positioned within (or forming part of) the external surface of the vehicle. Liquid propellant tanks configured and suitable for launch vehicles, have shapes that are customized so as to reduce the dynamic effects of sloshing fluid within the tank. For example, the tank can be varied by modulating the radius of the tank so as to reduce the destabilizing effects of the sloshing fluid. The fuel tank can include internal slosh baffles that are molded into a plastic tank liner. This arrangement can eliminate the need to mechanically fasten baffles inside the tank. In other embodiments, the baffles can be formed from within the tank. The shape of the tank can be configured to enhance and/or optimize the propellant's center of mass location within the vehicle so as to reduce the destabilizing effects that might otherwise result when liquid propellant within the tank sloshes during normal operations.
The BE-4 engine will be used on the New Glenn family of launch vehicles. The first stage will use seven BE-4 engines and the second stage will use a single BE-4 engine.
The BE-4 uses oxygen-rich staged combustion of liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas to produce 550,000 lb. of thrust. The BE-4 is currently under development and will be flight-ready in 2017. Liquefied natural gas is commercially available, affordable, and highly efficient for spaceflight. Unlike other rocket fuels, such as kerosene, liquefied natural gas can be used to pressurize a rocket’s propellant tanks. This is called autogenous pressurization and eliminates the need for costly and complex pressurization systems, like helium. Liquefied natural gas also leaves no soot byproducts as kerosene does, simplifying engine reuse. United Launch Alliance (ULA)–maker of the Atlas V and Delta IV launch systems–has chosen the BE-4 to power its next generation Vulcan launch vehicle.
Blue Origin built a new facility dedicated solely to testing the BE-4. The company was testing components, including the subscale oxygen-rich preburner, staged combustion of the preburner, and main injector assembly. Powerpack testing of the turbopumps and main valves was underway, as is staged combustion testing of the subscale oxygen-rich preburner and main injector assembly. Full engine testing would begin in 2016.
The vehicle includes a deployable or otherwise movable deceleration surface (e.g., a flare surface) positioned toward the end of the vehicle. The deployable surface can be stowed during ascent and deployed during descent to stabilize and reduce the speed of the vehicle during a tail-down descent and landing. The deployable deceleration surface can elevate the aerodynamic center of pressure of the vehicle (e.g., above the center of gravity of the vehicle) in such a manner as to improve stability and/or improve the ratio of vehicle aerodynamic lift to drag during a tail-down descent and landing. Fins toward the aft end of the vehicle can act as stabilizers and/or control surfaces during ascent, and can also act as stabilizers and/or control surfaces during descent.
After the engines have completed the boost phase, the deployable surface can be deployed to slow the descent of the vehicle. The deployable surface can improve vehicle stability as the vehicle descends (tail-down) by increasing vehicle drag and by reducing the terminal velocity of the vehicle before the engines restart prior to a vertical landing. In a particular embodiment, the deployable surface is used only once during flight, and is then retracted by the ground crew after the vehicle has landed. The fins can be used to control and steer the vehicle during descent and landing. As the vehicle approaches the landing site, the engines can be restarted to further slow the vehicle down. The landing gear are then deployed for final touchdown.
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