Blue Origin: From Pequeño Goddard to Saturn New Glenn

This post is a contribution from Eric HernandezA passionate fuzzy space and regular participant in It is in the comments section of this blog.

The legend says that everything starts with an idea, as if it sprouted from a seed planted in the brain, to blossom and expand. This idea was born in Jeff Bezos when he was a teenager who was studying in Florida, where he had already spoken that humanity should leave this beautiful planet towards the stars. But sometimes thoughts and emotions are forgotten or turned off until reality reminds us of our childhood dreams. In this case, Bezos’ moment of “epiphany” was to see October Sky in 1999.

October Sky movie poster.

At that moment, Bezos realized that he wanted to start his own space company, so he set to work. This wasn’t the first time he’d been called crazy for betting on a brave decision, because when he quit his job on Wall Street to start a small online bookselling business, many thought he was burying his future. At the beginning of Blue Origin, Bezos did not stop attending discussions with space visionswho surrounded himself as the son of Freeman Dyson. There was also the literary giant of the science fiction genre Neil Stephenson.

A book that makes you think

The controversy and discussions Bezos had revolved around creating something efficient, cheap and sustainable for space. And so the new Sherpard program was born, but at first it all started with a small ship inspired by the DC-X vertical descent rocket and named Goddard in honor of the American astronaut. Goddard was a small suborbital rover that used nine BE-1 hydrogen peroxide engines and flew three missions between 2006 and 2007. After all, at the time we knew practically nothing about Blue Origin’s existence, as Bezos kept the project a secret. . However, as if by fate, he could go on with it, because just when he was acquiring a huge piece of land in Texas – in Van Horn, where he was going to establish the bases for subtropical tourism projects – his helicopter had an accident and Bezos was on the verge of death in that the moment. Like Julius Caesar after crossing the Rubicon, Bezos took this experience as an explosive impetus to continue his favorite project.

Goddard Suborbital Test Vehicle (Blue Origin).

Years passed, and we still didn’t know anything about Blue Origin, until NASA introduced the Crew Program – first known as CCDev (Crew and cargo development) – for future manned spacecraft of the International Space Station. And there Blue stepped out of the shadows to compete with its twin-cone capsule, formally known as the CTS (Crew transportation system), a system that includes the appropriate capsule or SV (Space ship) and RBS launcher (Reusable booster system). However, this system will not be selected. Instead, NASA chose Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.

Blue Origin Dual Core Capsule from 2011 (Blue Origin).
2011 RBS reusable launcher for the capsule (Blue Origin).

Blue continued to work in secret on his New Shepard project and on something much larger, the OTS, which would be his first orbital rocket. However, given the opportunity that would arise in the future of ULA Vulcan, which would stop using Russian engines, Bezos wanted to form a strategic alliance with ULA playing the role of engine supplier, replacing Aerojet Rocketdyne in that role. And he got it. Blue was finally winning a huge future contract. But every decision has its drawbacks: ULA’s specifications required a much more powerful engine than the one Blue was planning for his future orbital rocket, so he had to start from scratch with his heavy launcher and go for something much bigger than that. They had originally planned. This specification would result in the BE-4 methane engine.

Jeff Bezos (R) presents with Tory Bruno, CEO of ULA, the BE-4 engine that will be used in Vulcan (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Thus New Glenn was born, and it was publicly introduced in 2016. It must be remembered that at that time Blue Origin had only 500 employees, making it impossible for it to meet the set deadlines. But if there’s something Jeff Bezos has about his projects, it’s that we look in the long term. And little by little it built its facilities in Florida for New Glenn, in Huntsville for the BE-4 and in Kent as the control center for all future Blue projects. And so we travel to the present, the year 2023, with the first BE-4 engines already delivered to ULA for the Vulcan rocket, thus fulfilling its first major contract. As for New Glenn, everything is set to debut in 2024.

Blue Origin is headquartered in Kent, Washington. There is a lot of R&D out there (GeekWire).

Blue Origin is currently developing several initiatives, such as Project Jarvis (a fully reusable second stage for New Glenn), a new space tug to reach more orbits in the same launch or Project DRACO (Demonstration rocket of agile operation over the moon) to build a nuclear-powered upper stage for the Space Force (Blue Origin is competing with Lockheed Martin to develop this nuclear missile, which will use a General Atomics fission reactor). In addition, it has several engines under development and in June hopes to win the contract for the second lunar module of the Artemis program (which will fly the Artemis V mission, the third to land) with National Team 2.0 (the original National Team was not selected in the initial contract for Artemis HLS, which has been captured by SpaceX). This National 2.0 team does not include Northrop Grumman, but has been joined by Astrobotic and Honeybee Robotics.

BE-4 in action (Blue Origin).

However, Blue Origin’s big project is the private space station Orbital Reef. The station, which will be unveiled in 2021, will initially consist of five components: a research module provided by Boeing, an inflatable node and module made by Sierra Space, and a mast-attached core module with solar panels and radiator, operated by Blue. Origin. The station will use Boeing’s Starliner to ferry crews and Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser as a cargo ship. New Glenn will be used to launch the station’s heavy elements into orbit.

Orbital Reef, space station for Blue Origin (Blue Origin).
Reef Elements (blue original).

We can only glimpse the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come with Blue Origin, but the reality is that the next two years will be necessary to consolidate the company as a space giant in the next lunar future. Let’s hope the wait and precious cooking time will provide us with a great spatial menu.

New Glen (Blue Origin).

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