Recently, Blue Origin has completed several milestones in its programs, as it moves closer to a debut flight of its New Glenn rocket. The successful launch of the BE-4 below the Vulcan rocket, pad and infrastructure changes, and winning the contract for the Artemis V lander put Blue Origin in a better position than their previous situation, with a delayed rocket and a struggle to get contracts. Ongoing efforts also include the possibility of a fully reusable New Glenn.
Work on the vertical assembly building and the Reef Pathfinder building has progressed over the past few months. The Reef Pathfinder building is associated with assembly and work on Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef space station and is located on the company’s Cape campus.
Orbital Reef is a space station being developed by Blue Origin and Sierra Space. It is planned to begin operations in 2027. Blue Origin will primarily contribute launch services to the station, as New Glenn will be the rocket used to put the station into orbit and to carry people and cargo to it. once worked.
Although it is unclear what the exact purpose of the vertical assembly building was, it is likely related to New Glenn’s construction efforts on the cape. The building features a fully constructed frame at this point. Blue has not yet confirmed the exact purpose of the building in the updated plans.
Approved development plans show that Blue Origin should add more buildings to the southern part of its Exploration Park campus. It includes a Chemical Processing Facility, Composite Assembly Building, and more. These buildings have not yet started construction.
Blue Origin recently began conducting fairing drop tests again, having first aborted these tests in January. Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) and Marine Safety Information Bulletins (MSIBs) were posted, confirming drop testing near the Cape between June 27 and June 30.
Blue Origin is set to retry fairing drop test operations offshore from the Cape this week. A Temporary Flight Restriction and a Marine Safety Information Bulletin have been published in connection with this.
TFR link: https://t.co/NH2XD3WZZ5
MSIB: https://t.co/KeZx3c5j8e https://t.co/vfPwPLvbPg pic.twitter.com/3A2TMwNmjJ
– Alejandro Alcantarilla Romera (Alex) (@Alexphysics13) June 26, 2023
In these tests, a helicopter is used to drop one of the halves of a New Glenn payload fairing, to be swooped down and scooped out of the ocean. These tests are early stages of preparing the fairing for a potential recovery on the upcoming New Glenn mission, similar to the approach taken by SpaceX in recovering their payload fairings. Tests have not been confirmed at the time of writing.
Additionally, a new Glenn upper stage test tank was located in the second phase of the Tank Cleaning and Testing Facility on Blue’s Exploration Park campus. It is unclear what type of testing was performed with the test tank, as it could be anything from fit checks or tank cleaning, to pressure tests. A tank was found related to the first phase at the Tank Cleaning and Testing Facility, with similar uncertainty as to where in the testing process this article is.
Another test conducted by Blue Origin was a full vertical erection of the New Glenn transporter erector at Space Launch Complex 36 (SLC-36). It featured additional installed hardware compared to what was seen last time. It includes a circular frame at the base of the T/E with a large hexagonal cutout in the middle. This frame is also seen in previous renders, posted by the company.
Of course, the biggest test project of Blue Origin’s Cape facility is its reusable second phase development program, also called Project Jarvis. Jarvis test tanks were built and tested in the tent area next to SLC-36, where they were seen with header tanks and normal tanks.
The recent NSF flyover also found ring sections for a possible new Jarvis tank. This development could see New Glenn become one of the first fully reusable launch vehicles, with SpaceX also aiming for full reusability in its Starship program.
Various tests can be performed using the newly constructed test stand in the Glenn Stage 1 test area next to the pad. The area is connected to the ground support equipment (GSE) tanks and could serve a role in the ongoing first phase of Blue Origin’s tank testing efforts at the Cape.
The BE-4 fired successfully below the Vulcan
According to reports from United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Blue Origin, the BE-4 engine performed flawlessly during the flight readiness firing (FRF) of ULA’s Vulcan rocket. While the rocket may not fly in 2023 due to issues with the Centaur upper stage, this test clears Blue Origin’s contributions to the rocket for flight. Both engines will be used to power New Glenn’s first stage.
Blue has not confirmed whether similar specs will be used for the Vulcan and New Glenn BE-4s, as the first Vulcan rockets will not sport a reusable first stage engine. The New Glenn will be reusable from the start, based on information provided by Blue Origin, so a difference in specification is a possibility.
Contracts and Artemis V
NASA recently awarded the Artemis V lander contract to the National Team, led by Blue Origin. This represents the largest contract ever won by Blue Origin, at over three billion dollars. Blue will also invest heavily in the construction of their lander, to be ready for the third crewed lunar landing mission of the Artemis program, currently planned for 2029.
The lander will be able to carry 20 metric tons in a reusable configuration to the lunar surface and will be launched aboard a New Glenn rocket. Northop Grumman’s cislunar transporter will perform refueling of the lander in orbit. The Artemis III and IV landing missions are expected to use SpaceX’s Starship as their landing vehicles.
New Shepard return-to-flight
New Shepard was grounded after a failure during an uncrewed NS-23 flight in September 2022. During that launch, the engine nozzle of the BE-3 engine failed, resulting in a loss of control and, ultimately, termination of the flight. Since then, Blue Origin has been working on restarting New Shepard flight operations, and according to an interview with Bob Smith at the Financial Times’ Investing in Space event, the company appears set to resume suborbital rocket operations in the coming years. week.
Once the date for New Shepard’s return to flight is confirmed, it will begin the campaign for mission 24 of the New Shepard program, which has so far suffered only one major anomaly.
(Lead image: Render of the National Team’s Moon lander. Credit: Blue Origin)
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