|Function||Partially reusable orbital launcher|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Height||2-stage: 82 m (270 ft)|
|Diameter||7 m (23 ft)|
|Payload to LEO||45,000 kg (99,000 lb)|
|Payload to GTO||13,000 kg (29,000 lb)|
|Launch sites||Cape Canaveral LC-36 Vandenberg Air Force Base|
|Diameter||7 m (23 ft)|
|Engines||7 × BE-4|
|Thrust||17.1 MN (3,850,000 lbf)|
|Fuel||Methane / LOX|
|Diameter||7 m (23 ft)|
|Engines||2 × BE-3U|
|Thrust||1,400 kN (320,000 lbf)|
|Fuel||H2 / LOX|
The New Glenn (named for John Glenn) is a heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle in development by Blue Origin. Design work on the vehicle began in 2012. The vehicle itself, 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 meters (23 ft). Its first stage will be powered by seven BE-4 engines that are also being designed and manufactured by Blue Origin.
After initiating the development of an orbital rocket system prior to 2012, Blue Origin publicly announced their orbital launch vehicle plans in September 2015. 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. Blue Origin publicly released the high-level design of the vehicle—and announced the name New Glenn—in September 2016.
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 rocket. 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 the New Shepard suborbital vehicle. The first-stage booster was to be refueled and launched again, allowing improved reliability and with the goal of lowering the cost of human access to space.
The booster rocket was projected to loft Blue Origin's biconic 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.
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 NASA test facility in October 2012. The chamber successfully achieved full thrust of 100,000 pounds-force (about 440 kN). By early 2018, it was announced that the BE-3U hydrolox engine would power the second stage of the New Glenn.
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 rocket was referred to by the placeholder name of "Very Big Brother". It was stated to be a two-stage-to-orbit liquid-propellant rocket, with the launcher intended to be reusable. In early 2016, Blue Origin indicated that the first orbital launch was expected no earlier than 2020 from the Florida launch facility, and in September 2017 continued to forecast a 2020 debut.
The vehicle itself, and the high-level specifications, were initially publicly unveiled in September 2016. New Glenn was described as a 7-meter-diameter (23 ft), 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 will be powered by seven Blue Origin BE-4 engines, while the second stage was to have been powered by a single upper stage variant of that same basic design. The first stage is reusable and will land vertically, just like the New Shepard suborbital launch vehicle that preceded it. The third stage of the initial design was to have used a single BE-3 hydrolox engine. Although these plans would subsequently change, the 2016 plans called for the first stage to be powered by Blue Origin's BE-4 single-shaft oxygen-rich staged combustion liquid methane/liquid oxygen rocket engine, while the second-stage would be powered by a vacuum-variant of the BE-4, the BE-4U. Blue Origin announced that they intended to launch the rocket from Launch Complex 36, and manufacture the rockets at a new facility being built after 2015 on nearby land in Exploration Park. Acceptance testing of the BE-4 engines was also announced to be planned for Florida.
By 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-3U tap-off cycle liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen rocket engine with a single B-3U engine for the third stage deep space option. A single BE-3 engine is being used in the suborbital New Shepard rocket. The three stage booster variant was announced as no longer planned to be offered as an option.
In March 2017, Jeff Bezos showed graphics of the New Glenn which had four large "strakes" (rotatable fins) at the bottom of the booster (not shown in the Sept 2016 images top right). In the September 2017 announcement, Blue announced a much larger payload fairing for New Glenn, this one 7 meters (23 ft) in diameter, up from 5.4 meters (18 ft) in the originally announced design.
By mid-2018, the detailed design was not yet complete and the likelihood of achieving an initial launch by 2020 was being called into question by company engineers, customers and Reuters journalist Eric Johnson, and also by "industry experts" and Ars Technica space journalist Eric Berger. In February 2019, Blue indicated that no plans to build a reusable second stage are even on the company's roadmap.
By February 2019, multiple 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.
Description and technical specifications
The New Glenn is a 7-meter-diameter (23 ft) two-stage orbital launch vehicle with a reusable first stage and an expendable second stage. An optional third stage was envisaged with a single BE-3U engine, and was planned as of October 2018.
The first stage is designed to be reusable for up to 100 missions, 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-degree inclined LEO, though the initial operating capability may be somewhat lower. Dual-satellite launches will be offered after the first five flights.
Both stages will use orthogrid aluminum tanks with welded aluminum domes and common bulkheads. Both stages will also use autogenous pressurization. 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. 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 are explicitly designed for use in upper stages. Preliminary design numbers from 2015 projected the BE-3U to have a vacuum thrust of 670 kilonewtons (150,000 lbf).
Launches of the New Glenn are planned to be made from Spaceport Florida Launch Complex 36, which was leased to Blue Origin in 2015. A launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base is also planned. New Glenn will also be available for space tourism flights, with priority given to customers of New Shepard. The first stage boosters of New Glenn are intended to be reusable, and will be recovered downrange on the Atlantic Ocean via the Blue Origin landing platform ship acting as a floating movable landing platform. The hydrodynamically-stabilized ship increases the likelihood of successful recovery in rough seas.
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-meter-tall (51 ft) × 41-meter-long (136 ft) × 13-meter-wide (43 ft) 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.[needs update] As of September 2018[update], Blue had invested over US$1 billion in its Florida manufacturing facility and launch site, and intends that much more going forward.
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.
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 commsat launches planned after 2020, while internet satellite constellation fleet operator OneWeb has an agreement for five launches.
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.
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.
This is different from how dual-launch manifested contracts have been traditionally handled by Arianespace (Ariane V 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.
The development and manufacture of the New Glenn is being funded by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, and the US Air Force. New Glenn will receive $500 million in funding under the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program. By September 2017, Bezos had invested US$2.5 billion into New Glenn. As of 2018, Blue was aggressively hiring new talent, including 60 engineers who worked previously at SpaceX, to focus principally on New Glenn development.
- Space launch market competition
- Falcon Heavy (SpaceX)
- Ariane 6 (Arianespace future)
- Vulcan Centaur (United Launch Alliance future)
- Vulcan ACES (United Launch Alliance future)
- BFR (rocket) (SpaceX future)
- Space Launch System (NASA/Boeing), not intended for commercial satellite launch
- Comparison of orbital launch systems
- Comparison of orbital launchers families
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Blue Origin’s McFarland said Blue Origin won’t let schedule disruptions with one payload impact the co-passenger in dual-launch missions, even if it means splitting the missions in two. “We are not going to [let this] hold back or delay a launch,” he said. “We are going for a cadence of up to eight times per year where we will launch. If we don’t have a second, we still go as a single. So that’s the plan, [with] the same price point for the launch service for the customer.”
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