Yesterday Blue Origin along with Jeff Bezos announced that company will start developing new heavy rocket to conduct first test flight before end of this decade from Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral.
Everything started from email sent by Jeff Bezos, who explains whole sense of new project. New launch vehicle is impressive in its technical specification, but it is worth to remember, that probably dimensions and many other aspects will change. One thing is sure: New Glenn (name of the rocket was chosen to celebrate John Glenn, member of the first team of NASA astronauts, oldest man in space with last flight in 1998) is large rocket with ability to perform landing of the first stage. It is brand new quality in terms of reusable because New Glenn is rather comparable with its dimensions to Saturn V remaining definitely larger then Delta IV Heavy or Falcon-9 FT. Concept of the launch vehicle is similar to New Shepard – large single reusable first stage without any supporting boosters combined with one or two stages. First stage is fully reusable and is exactly the same in two-stage and three-stage versions. Rocket will be long for 70 m with diameter at 7 m in two-stage version and long for 95 m with same diameter in three-stage configuration. First stage will be equipped with seven BE-4 engines fueled with LOX and liquefied natural gas (CH4); it will provide total thrust of 17124 kN. On picture we can clearly see stabilizing fins in the upper part of booster (New Shepard is equipped with stabilizing ring under capsule) and deployed legs what clearly shows that main advantage of New Glenn is fact that is designed from the scratch as partially reusable vehicle. Second stage will be equipped with vacuum version of BE-4 also fueled with CH4 and LOX. Combination of booster and second stage will be interchangeable in both versions of New Glenn what surely makes manufacturing easier and allow for manufacturing number of boosters and second staged and keep them in stock. Third stage is planned to be equipped with BE-3 engine used for New Shepard, fueled with LOX/LH2. Rocket is planned to be used for LEO orbit missions in its two-stage configuration, while extended version with third stage will serve for missions beyond Low Earth Orbit.
Fueling with less toxic and cheaper CH4 is characteristic for new rockets designed recently in the USA. CH4 will be used as propellant for Vulcan by ULA (powered with BE-4 engines) and future SpaceX heavy rocket powered with Raptor engines designed in-house by SpaceX. In this matter Blue Origin is rather not presenting anything new, but if we consider fact that planned rocket will be reusable it is big difference and surely will make competition on space market really interesting. It is also to point fact about New Glenn launch site – LC-36. It was historic launch site remaining operational in years 1962-2010, but in 2010 both towers were demolished and were leased for testing various vehicles but without establishing any new infrastructure. On September 2015 Blue Origin leased LC-36 for tests of future rocket and also for establishing industrial base for their launch vehicles including integration, assembly or even manufacturing facilities. This means new chance for Florida State and surely will add strong political support for plans of Blue Origin – especially if we consider that according to Jeff Bezos, Blue origin considers to present at least one more launch vehicle named already New Armstrong…
On picture above: Comparison of New Glenn with present and historical rockets. Picture provided by Blue Origin.