New Glenn
Illustration of New Glenn
FunctionPartially reusable orbital launcher
ManufacturerBlue Origin
Country of originUnited States
Size
Height98 m (322 ft) [1]
Diameter7 m (23 ft)
Stages2
Capacity
Payload to low Earth orbit (LEO)
Mass45,000 kg (99,000 lb) [2][3]
Payload to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO)
Mass13,600 kg (30,000 lb) [2][3]
Associated rockets
Comparable
Launch history
StatusIn development
Launch sitesCape Canaveral, LC-36
Vandenberg Air Force Base
First flightLate 2022 (planned)[4]
First stage
Length57.5 m (189 ft)
Diameter7 m (23 ft)
Engines7 × BE-4
Thrust17.1 MN (3,850,000 lbf)
PropellantCH4 / LOX
Second stage
Length16.1 m (53 ft) tank section, 23.4 m (77 ft) including the two high expansion ratio nozzle BE-3Us
Diameter7 m (23 ft)
Engines2 × BE-3U
Thrust1,400 kN (320,000 lbf)
PropellantLH2 / LOX

New Glenn, named after NASA astronaut John Glenn, is a heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle in development by Blue Origin. Design work on the vehicle began in 2012. Illustrations of the vehicle, and the high-level specifications, were initially publicly unveiled in September 2016. New Glenn is described as a two-stage rocket with a diameter of 7 m (23 ft). Its first stage will be powered by seven BE-4 engines that are also being designed and manufactured by Blue Origin.

Like the New Shepard suborbital launch vehicle that preceded it, the New Glenn's first stage has been designed to be reusable since inception in 2016.[5] In 2021, the company initiated conceptual design work on approaches to potentially make the second stage reusable as well, with the project codenamed Project Jarvis.[6]

Originally aiming for first launch in 2020,[7] by 2018 Blue Origin expected to launch New Glenn in 2021.[8] In February 2021, the target date for the first launch delayed to no earlier than the fourth quarter of 2022.[9][4]

History

After initiating the development of an orbital rocket system prior to 2012, and stating in 2013 on their website that the first stage would do a powered vertical landing and be reusable,[10] Blue Origin publicly announced their orbital launch vehicle intentions in September 2015.[11] In January 2016, Blue Origin indicated that the new rocket would be many times larger than New Shepard even though it would be the smallest of the family of Blue Origin orbital vehicles.[12] Blue Origin publicly released the high-level design of the vehicle and announced the name New Glenn — with both two-stage and three-stage variants planned — in September 2016.[5]

Early development work on orbital subsystems

Blue Origin began developing systems for orbital human spacecraft prior to 2012. A reusable first-stage booster was projected to fly a suborbital trajectory, taking off vertically like the booster stage of a conventional multistage launch vehicle. Following stage separation, the upper stage would continue to propel astronauts to orbit while the first-stage booster would descend to perform a powered vertical landing similar to its New Shepard suborbital vehicle. The first-stage booster was to be refueled and relaunched to reduce costs of access for humans to space.[10]

The booster launch vehicle was projected to lift Blue Origin's iconic Space Vehicle capsule to orbit, carrying astronauts and supplies. After completing its mission in orbit, the Space Vehicle was designed to reenter Earth's atmosphere and land under parachutes on land, to be reused on future missions.[10]

Engine testing for the (then named) Reusable Booster System (RBS) launch vehicle began in 2012. A full-power test of the thrust chamber for Blue Origin BE-3 liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen upper-stage rocket engine (BE-3U) was conducted at a John C. Stennis Space Center (NASA test facility) in October 2012. The chamber successfully achieved full thrust of 100,000 lbf (about 440 kN).[13] By early 2018,[14] it was announced that the BE-3U hydrolox engine would power the second stage of the New Glenn.[15]

Orbital launch vehicle

Design work on the vehicle began in 2012, with the beginning of BE-4 engine development. Further plans for an orbital launch vehicle were made public in 2015. By March 2016, the launch vehicle was referred to by the placeholder name of "Very Big Brother".[16][7] It was stated to be a two-stage-to-orbit liquid-propellant rocket,[11] with the launcher intended to be reusable.[17] In early 2016, Blue Origin indicated that the first orbital launch was expected no earlier than 2020 from the Florida launch facility,[7] and in September 2017 continued to forecast a 2020 debut.[18] In a February 2016 interview, Blue Origin president Rob Meyerson referred to engine development and orbital launch vehicle milestones.[19][20]

The vehicle itself, and the high-level specifications, were initially publicly unveiled in September 2016. New Glenn was described as a 7 m (23 ft) in diameter, two- or three-stage rocket, with the first and second stages being liquid methane/liquid oxygen (methalox) designs using Blue Origin engines. The first stage is planned to be reusable and will land vertically, just like the New Shepard suborbital launch vehicle that has been flying suborbitally since the early 2010s. Although these plans would subsequently change, the 2016 plans called for the first stage to be powered by seven of Blue Origin's BE-4 single-shaft oxygen-rich staged combustion[21] liquid methane/liquid oxygen rocket engines, the second-stage to be powered by a single vacuum-variant of the BE-4 (BE-4U) and the third stage to use a single BE-3 hydrolox engine.[5] In 2016, the first stage was planned to be designed to be reused for up to 100 flights.[2][3] Blue Origin announced that they intended to launch the rocket from Launch Complex 36 (LC-36), and manufacture the launch vehicles at a new facility to be built on nearby land in Exploration Park. Acceptance testing of the BE-4 engines was also announced to be planned for Florida.[17]

Blue explained in the 12 September 2016 announcement that the rocket would be named New Glenn in honor of the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, John Glenn.[5][22] Three weeks of wind tunnel testing of a scale model New Glenn were completed in September 2016 in order to validate the CFD design models of transonic and supersonic flight.[23][24]

In March 2017, Jeff Bezos showed graphics of the New Glenn which had two large strakes at the bottom of the booster.[25] In the September 2017 announcement, Blue announced a much larger payload fairing for New Glenn, this one 7 m (23 ft) in diameter, up from 5.4 m (18 ft) in the originally announced design.[18]

By March 2018, the launch vehicle design had changed. It was announced that the New Glenn second stage will now be powered by two vacuum versions of the flight proven BE-3 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen rocket engine (BE-3U) with a single BE-3U engine for the third stage deep space option. The three stage booster variant was subsequently cancelled completely in January 2019.[26] By mid-2018, the low-level design was not yet complete and the likelihood of achieving an initial launch by 2020 was being called into question by company engineers, customers, industry experts, and journalists.[27][28] In October 2018, the Air Force announced Blue Origin was awarded US$500 million for development of New Glenn as a potential competitor in future contracts, including Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Phase 2.[29] The October 2018 award was terminated in December 2020 after receiving US$255.5 million of the US$500 million.[4]

By February 2019, several launches for New Glenn had been contracted: five for OneWeb, an unspecified amount of Telesat, one each for Eutelsat, mu Space Corp and SKY Perfect JSAT.[30][31][18][32][15] In February 2019, Blue Origin indicated that no plans to build a reusable second stage were on the company's roadmap.[33] In the event, by July 2021, Blue was evaluating options for getting to a reusable second-stage design: Project Jarvis.[34]

In August 2020 the Air Force announced that New Glenn was not selected for the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 launch procurement. Due to this, in February 2021 Blue Origin announced that the first flight would now be targeted for late 2022.[4]

By December 2020, Blue Origin indicated that the BE-4 engine delivery to ULA would slip to summer 2021, and ULA disclosed that the first launch of the New Glenn competitor ULA Vulcan Centaur would now be no earlier than 4Q 2021.[35] Blue announced a further schedule slip for the first launch of New Glenn in March 2021 when the company said New Glenn "would not launch until the fourth quarter of 2022, at the earliest."[9]

By 2021, Blue had reduced the published reuse specification for New Glenn to a minimum of 25 flights,[36] from previously stating in 2016 that they were planning the design to support up to 100 flights.[2][3]

Project Jarvis

See also: Blue Origin § Project Jarvis

Information became public in July 2021 that Blue Origin had begun a "project to develop a fully reusable upper stage for New Glenn," Project Jarvis. A principal goal of the project is to reduce the overall launch cost of New Glenn by gaining an operational capacity to reuse second stages, just as SpaceX is aiming to do with their Starship second stage by building a fully-reusable orbital launch vehicle. If Blue is able to realize such a second stage design, and bring it into operational use, it would substantially bring down the cost of launches of the New Glenn system.[34]

Beyond the technical changes indicated, Bezos has created a new management structure for the new efforts, walling off "parts of the second-stage development program from the rest of Blue Origin [telling] its leaders to innovate in an environment unfettered by rigorous management and paperwork processes."[34][6] No budget has been publicly released.

One part of the effort is focusing on developing a stainless steel propellant tank and main structure for the second stage rocket, and evaluating it as a part of a solution for a complete second stage system.[6] By 24 August, Blue had rolled a stainless steel test tank to their Launch Complex 36 facility, on which ground pressure testing with cyrogenic propellants could begin as early as September.[6]

In addition to the Jarvis team working on a new second stage tank design, Blue Origin has set up another team to focus on design approaches that might be used to make a New Glenn second stage reusable, something that was not a design objective for the original second stage for New Glenn prior to 2021. As of August 2021, three approaches are being explored: adding wings to allow the stage to operate as a spaceplane on reentry; using an aerospike engine on the second stage that could double as a heat shield on reentry; and an approach similar to SpaceX's Starship concept using high-drag flaps in combination with propulsive deceleration. A decision on which approach to take into full development is slated for later in 2021.[6]

Description and technical specifications

The first hotfire-tested Blue Origin BE-4 rocket engine, serial number 103, at the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 2018, showing the liquid methane inlet side of the engine.
The first hotfire-tested Blue Origin BE-4 rocket engine, serial number 103, at the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 2018, showing the liquid methane inlet side of the engine.

The New Glenn is a 7 m (23 ft) in diameter two-stage orbital launch vehicle with a reusable first stage [15] and an expendable second stage.[33] An optional third stage was envisaged with a single BE-3U engine, and was planned as of October 2018.[37]

The first stage is designed to be reusable for a minimum of 25 flights,[36] and will land vertically, a technology previously developed by Blue Origin and tested in 2015–2016 on its New Shepard suborbital launch vehicle. The second stage will share the same diameter as the first and use two BE-3U vacuum optimized engines. It will use hydrogen/oxygen as propellant and will be expendable. This engine is manufactured by Blue Origin. The company has revealed the planned full operational payload capacity of the two-stage version of New Glenn as 13,000 kg (29,000 lb) to GTO and 45,000 kg (99,000 lb) to a 51.6° inclined LEO,[2] though the initial operating capability may be somewhat lower.[37] Dual-satellite launches will be offered after the first five flights.[38]

Both stages will use orthogrid aluminum tanks with welded aluminum domes and common bulkheads. Both stages will also use autogenous pressurization.[37] The first stage will be powered by seven BE-4 methane/oxygen engines — designed and manufactured by Blue Origin — producing 17,000 kN (3,800,000 lbf) of liftoff thrust.[2] The second stage will be powered by two BE-3U engines, also designed and manufactured by Blue Origin. BE-3Us are an expander cycle variant of the BE-3 engine, which are explicitly designed for use in upper stages.[39] Preliminary design numbers from 2015 projected the BE-3U to have a vacuum thrust of 670 kN (150,000 lbf).[40]

Launches of the New Glenn are planned to be made from Launch Complex 36 (LC-36), which was leased to Blue Origin in 2015.[5][7] A launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base is also planned.[30] New Glenn will also be available for space tourism flights, with priority given to customers of New Shepard.[41] The first stage boosters of New Glenn are intended to be reusable, and will be recovered downrange on the Atlantic Ocean via their landing platform ship Jacklyn, which will be acting as a floating movable landing platform. The hydrodynamically-stabilized ship increases the likelihood of successful recovery in rough seas.[15]

Manufacturing

The main assembly of the New Glenn launch vehicle will occur in the Blue Origin rocket manufacturing facility in Florida, near Launch Complex 36 (LC-36) which the company leased from Spaceport Florida. Launch Complex 36 (LC-36) has hosted more than 100 launches, formerly launching the Atlas II and Atlas III.

Tooling and equipment for the factory began to be ordered and built in 2015. In July 2018, the build of the largest device, a 16 m (52 ft) tall × 41 m (135 ft) long × 13 m (43 ft) wide Ingersoll "Mongoose" cryogenic-tank and fairing fabrication machine, was completed after a three-year design/build process. It will be installed in the Florida facility in Exploration Park later in 2018.[42] As of September 2018, Blue Origin had invested over US$1 billion in its Florida manufacturing facility and launch site, and intends to spend much more going forward.[15][43]

Launch services

Blue will offer both single-payload dedicated flights and, after the fifth launch, dual-manifesting of large communications satellites to be transported to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).[44] All contracted launches from the start will feature a reusable first-stage, so just like the practice in commercial aircraft transport, landing conditions can affect the timing and flight parameters of a launch.[44]

Launch service customers

By 2018, Blue Origin had contracts in place with four customers for New Glenn flights. Eutelsat, Thailand startup mu Space Corp and SKY Perfect JSAT have geosynchronous orbit communications satellite launches planned after 2020, while internet satellite constellation fleet operator OneWeb has an agreement for five launches.[31][32][45]

In January 2019, Telesat signed a multi-launch contract "to launch satellites for its future low-Earth-orbit broadband constellation on multiple New Glenn missions" and thus is Blue's fifth customer.[46]

Schedule-oriented launch cadence

Blue intends to contract for launch services a bit differently than contract options that have been traditionally offered in the commercial launch market. The company has stated they will contract to aim to have a regular launch cadence of up to eight times a year. If one of the payload providers for a multi-payload launch is not ready on time, Blue will hold to the launch timeframe, and fly the remaining payloads on time at no increase in price.[44] This is different from how dual-launch manifested contracts have been traditionally handled by Arianespace (Ariane 5 and Ariane 6) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (H-IIA and H3). SpaceX and International Launch Services can offer dual-launch contracts, but prefer dedicated missions.[44]

Funding

The development and manufacture of the New Glenn is being funded by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com,[5][47] and the Department of the Air Force. Initially funded entirely by Bezos, after 2019 New Glenn will also receive US$500 million in funding under the United States Space Force National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program.[48] By September 2017, Bezos had invested US$2.5 billion into New Glenn.[18]

See also

References

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