After months of speculation, Blue Origin finally released more details about its New Glenn rocket on Tuesday. The 82-meter-tall rocket will have the capacity to lift 45 tons to low Earth orbit and an impressive 13 tons to geostationary transfer orbit. The two-stage rocket should be ready for itsÂ maiden flight by the end of 2019, company founder Jeff Bezos said.
New Glenn, named for the first US astronaut to orbit Earth, John Glenn, will also have a fully reusable first stage. In addition to remarks by Bezos at the Satellite 2017 conference in Washington, Blue Origin released a video showing the rocket’s return to Earth. It will employ aerodynamic strakes for maneuvering during the return and will land onÂ a barge. It is designed for up to 100 reuses. The rocket’s return looks similar to that of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but New Glenn is a larger and considerably more powerful booster.
Were it flying today, New Glenn would in fact be the most powerful rocket on Earth. However, other large boosters are also under development that will likely fly first. SpaceX is building the Falcon Heavy, which will have the capacity to deliver 53 tons to low Earth orbit, and NASA is developing the Space Launch System with a 70-ton capacity.
Today’s announcement, therefore, marks the beginning of a golden era of heavy-lift booster development. During the next few years, these three rockets will be competing on performance, price, and reliability. In addition to large satellite launches, they will also potentially enable NASA’s deep-space exploration plansâ€”includingÂ lunar explorationâ€”and potentially missions to Mars. Both Blue Origin and SpaceX anticipate much lower operating costs than the government rocket, and both will be pursuing reusability. ButÂ as ever in the rocket business, it’s one thing to show a video rendering a futureÂ launch. It’s another thing to reach the launch pad, fly, and reuse.
During his talk on Tuesday, Bezos expressed confidence in the prospects for New Glenn, saying the company has learned important lessons from the development of its New Shepard rocket and spacecraft, which has already demonstrated low-cost reusability and could begin suborbital tourism flights as early as next year. “This is what is making it possible for us to build an orbital vehicle,” he said. “The orbital vehicle is 100 percent informed by all of the lessons that we learned in the course of the New Shepard program, so it’s very directly relevant.”
Some critics have dinged Blue Origin for its initial focus on space tourism, saying the company isn’t really serious about space exploration. But such criticism is misguided, Bezos said, noting that in the past, entertainment has been a driver for important innovation. “There are historical cases where entertainment turns out to be a driver of technologies that then become very practical and utilitarian for other things,” he said, citing the early use of aviation for barnstorming, and GPUs originally developed for PC gaming now employed in machine learning.
Whatever one thinks of New Shepard and its brief suborbital hops, however, there can be little question that New Glenn is a serious rocket. The booster already has a customer, tooâ€”EutelsatÂ has contracted with Blue Origin for a geostationary satellite launch. Moreover, New Glenn is also, as Bezos repeated Tuesday, “the smallest orbital rocket Blue Origin will ever build.” In the future, even larger boosters are coming, such as the previously teased New Armstrong rocket. The tech mogul has recently saidÂ that lunar exploration is the next logical step for human activity in space.
Listing image by Blue Origin
from Ars Technica http://ift.tt/2mxhExQ