Bezos' Rocket Landing a Big Step for Suborbital Spaceflight but Not Same as Falcon-9 Plans

Blue Origin flies and lands the world’s first fully reusable rocket from its launch site in West Texas. Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin flies and lands the world’s first fully reusable rocket from its launch site in West Texas. Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin made history Monday evening when the private aerospace company successfully launched and recovered their New Shepard launch vehicle from their launch site in West Texas. The vehicle reached an altitude of 329,839 ft. (100.5 km) before returning to Earth, making Blue Origin’s New Shepard system the first launch vehicle to successfully reach space and return for a soft landing on terra firma.

“Rockets have always been expendable. Not anymore. Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts, a used rocket,” Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos wrote in a blog post.

Returning a launch vehicle to a soft landing back on Earth has been done, but returning a launch vehicle successfully from space for use again has not. An object is in space when it reaches an altitude roughly 100 km above the Earth, known as the Karman line, and New Shepard successfully soared to that height, deployed its uncrewed capsule, and fell back to Earth. As the free-falling rocket booster entered the atmosphere, airflow through the ring at the top of the booster helped shift the center of pressure for a controlled reentry, and four fins deployed. Traveling at the speed of sound (Mach 1), the vehicle’s eight large drag brakes deployed to reduce the vehicle’s terminal speed nearly in half, to 387 mph. Hydraulically actuated fins navigated New Shepard through 119-mph, high-altitude crosswinds to a location 5,000 feet above the company’s landing pad. The BE-3 liquid rocket engine re-ignited to further slow down the booster and deploy landing gear. The booster descended the last 100 feet at 4.4 mph and softly landed on the pad. The New Shepard capsule came to a perfect parachute landing as well.

After a clean separation from the propulsion module, the New Shepard crew capsule descends to a gentle landing in the west Texas desert. Credit: Blue Origin

After a clean separation from the propulsion module, the New Shepard crew capsule descends to a gentle landing in the west Texas desert. Credit: Blue Origin

New Shepard is a fully reusable vertical takeoff, vertical landing space vehicle that will one day take humans and payloads to space. The launch system consists of a booster and pressurized capsule with enough room in its interior (530 cubic feet) to spaciously fit six humans. At takeoff, the capsule and booster system will launch vertically and accelerate for about 2.5 minutes before engine cut off. The capsule will then separate from the booster and coast through space. Humans on board the capsule will get a magnificent glimpse of home and experience weightlessness until it is time to return. Booster will free-fall and come to a vertical landing while the capsule lands softly under parachutes.

Blue Origin’s successful landing of their New Shepard system was applauded all over the internet, and especially on social media. On Twitter, CEO of United Launch Alliance (ULA), Tory Bruno, congratulated Bezos and the team on a job well done. Like Blue Origin, ULA announced plans to launch a reusable launch system called the Vulcan Rocket and incorporate American-made BE-4 engines made by Blue Origin. The ULA/Blue Origin partnership was announced last September and unveiling of the new ULA rocket took place seven months later. Rather than coming to a soft landing, the reusable Vulcan rocket will be captured mid-air by helicopter using Sensible, Modular, Autonomous Return Technology (SMART) that will enable the company to capture the booster’s main engines (the most expensive part of the first stage) for reuse. A mid-air capture enables a controlled environment and provides extra assurance to recover and re-fly the hardware.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also took to Twitter to congratulate Bezos and Blue Origin for their accomplishment. While many were under the impression that Blue Origin was the first reusable rocket, Musk was not. He mentioned that the “SpaceX Grasshopper rocket did 6 suborbital flights 3 years ago [and] is still around” and “Jeff maybe unaware SpaceX suborbital VTOL flight began 2013. Orbital water landing 2014. Orbital land landing next” with a link to a video of the Grasshopper doing a divert test. He also noted that NASA’s X-15 was the first reusable suborbital rocket and Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne was the first commercial.

SpaceX has tried twice to land their first stage Falcon 9 on an offshore autonomous barge after launching payloads to space, both attempts were close to successful, ending in the rocket hitting the barge and toppling over. Once SpaceX demonstrates a successful landing of their Falcon 9 first stage on a floating barge, the company will then demonstrate flying the rocket back to Landing Complex- 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg AFB in California.

The comparison between SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Blue Origin’s New Shepard is that the latter is only designed to take humans to suborbital space. The rocket doesn’t have the power to reach orbit, or reach much past the 62 mile boundary of space, because it’s not designed to do what Falcon 9 does.

The goal is the same: land the booster vertically for rapid reuse; however, the vehicles have very different capabilities and missions. It’s a much harder feat for SpaceX to accomplish because Falcon 9 first stage is 150 feet tall and falls back to Earth at 2,900 mph at booster separation. Landing the booster has been likened to someone balancing a rubber broomstick on their hand in the middle of a wind storm.

SpaceX Grasshopper reached a record height under 1 km, whereas Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle reached 100 km. Credit: @elonmusk on Twitter

SpaceX Grasshopper reached a record height under 1 km, whereas Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle reached 100 km. Credit: @elonmusk on Twitter

Though Musk claims that Grasshopper completed six suborbital flights three years ago, Blue Origin’s New Shepard system reached over one hundred more kilometers than Grasshoppers record setting height (under 1 km).

In September, Blue Origin announced plans to invest $200 million into Launch Complex-36 (LC-36) at CCAFS in Florida to fly their rockets from, and plans to test and build rocket engines at a nearby production facility. While SpaceX and ULA manufacture and transport their rockets from other states, Blue Origin at Cape Canaveral will be able to produce and transport their rockets without the hassle.

“We are building Blue Origin to seed an enduring human presence in space, to help us move beyond this blue planet that is the origin of all we know. We are pursuing this vision patiently, step-by-step. Our fantastic team in Ken, Van Horn and Cape Canaveral is working hard not just to build space vehicles, but to bring closer the day when millions of people can live and work in space,” said Bezos.

 

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64 comments to Bezos’ Rocket Landing a Big Step for Suborbital Spaceflight but Not Same as Falcon-9 Plans

  • Lori R.

    Thank you for clarifying this!

  • Joe

    “While many were under the impression that Blue Origin was the first reusable rocket, Musk was not. He mentioned that the “SpaceX Grasshopper rocket did 6 suborbital flights 3 years ago [and] is still around” and “Jeff maybe unaware SpaceX suborbital VTOL flight began 2013.”

    (1) While this “My rocket is bigger than your rocket” competition is humorous, if we are going to be completely accurate the DC-X from the Delta Clipper Program did more than the “Grasshopper” over 20 years ago.

    (2) More interesting, at least to me, is a comparison of the final approaches of the two vehicles.

    (a) Both vehicles appear to develop a sort of pendulum motion swing around the top of the vehicle as it approaches the ground (at about 1,000 ft. for the New Sheppard per the video).

    (b) The New Sheppard appears to be able to gain control of this motion due to having enough fuel in reserve to reignite its engines (at about 5,000 ft. again per the video) and even briefly hover before touching down.

    • Tracy the Troll

      Joe,

      “New Shepard is a fully reusable vertical takeoff, vertical landing space vehicle that will one day take humans and payloads to space.”

      This is NOT accurate is it? “To Space” meaning LEO won’t that require a completely different dynamic than this Tourist rocket or do you think that all needs to be done is a scale up of this new technology which as you pointed out is based on DC Clipper of 20 + years ago?

      • Joe

        Hi Tracy,

        This is a matter of semantics, technically by the current definition if you travel to an altitude of 100 Kilometers you have been “to space”. That is not new, has been that way since at least the 1960’s. That why I do not care about either Bezos tweaking of Musk or Musk’s petulant and incomplete reply.

        In the old Delta Clipper Program (if it had not been cancelled) there was to be a follow on to the DC-X called the DC-Y. It would have been a sub-orbital vehicle to further test all the dynamics involved. An interim step to an orbital vehicle.

        There are a number of members of the old Delta Clipper Team involved with Blue Origin and for that reason Blue Origins activities are very much worth watching.

        The whole Bezos vs. Musk thing is a side show made for the age of reality television.

      • Really, you ask a reader if our report is accurate? Please look up the definition of the boundary of space, it’s hyperlinked in bold blue text in the article. Space & LEO are considered 2 different things, Bezos can’t make it to LEO but he can make it to space

        • Tracy the Troll

          Right Mike I was not understanding the specific definition “of Space”…Surely I do expect Blue Origin to make large amounts of money with this sub-orbital tech…I thought I was missing the connection to a LEO vehicle with this design.

    • Tim Andrews

      “(1) While this “My rocket is bigger than your rocket” competition is humorous,”

      Especially humorous that Musk is comparing the Grasshopper and Dev9R test flights to the New Shepard suborbital flight.

      Blue Origin did atmospheric testing comparable to Dev9R in 2011, and atmospheric testing with Goddard comparable to Grasshopper back in 2006.

      And, as you say – DC-X did similar (though higher altitudes and more aerobatics – but still atmospheric flights) 20 years ago.

      I’m waiting for Dr. Aldrin to weigh in with “Oh yeah? Well I did a vertical powered landing on the moon while you were still in diapers”

      • Joe

        “I’m waiting for Dr. Aldrin to weigh in with “Oh yeah? Well I did a vertical powered landing on the moon while you were still in diapers””

        And he would of course be correct.

        Again the interesting thing (at least to me) is that Blue Origin has now successfully flown the equivalent of the DC-Y (after 20 years, but better late than never) and appears to plan a complete flight test program with it. Additionally they will attempt to at least partially offset costs by selling tickets to tourists.

        Nice to be able to say something positive about a “new” space company for a change.

        • Tim Andrews

          “Additionally they will attempt to at least partially offset costs by selling tickets to tourists.”

          That and contracted commercial and government sub-orbital flights. Better yet, at least in my opinion, sub-orbital isn’t their end-game. New Shepard is doing double-duty as a development program for their orbital launch vehicle. If they can defray portions of that cost with paid payloads of people and or experiments, that’s keeping them on the path to putting the Biconic Capsule in orbit.

          “Nice to be able to say something positive about a “new” space company”

          Absolutely. I still say Blue Origin should be the poster child for the concept of programs like Commercial Crew stimulating private industry, since they got grant funding for their abort system and have been receiving free consulting from NASA’s engineering teams under the Space Act agreement on NASA’s dime – but it’s Bezos’ wallet that’s done all the heavy lifting for this project, not the taxpayers.

          • Joe

            “Better yet, at least in my opinion, sub-orbital isn’t their end-game. New Shepard is doing double-duty as a development program for their orbital launch vehicle.”

            We are in complete agreement there. That was the reason I compared it to the DC-Y. The DC-Y was intended as a sub-orbital test vehicle that would support development of an LEO vehicle.

    • comparison of the final approaches…
      (b) The New Sheppard…fuel in reserve to reignite its engines… and even briefly hover before touching down.

      Hence the irritation of Musk ‘n fans. The approach of Falcon 9 is an order of magnitude more impressive and difficult feat. The Falcon 9 (stage one) does supersonic retropulsion burns to turn around from the climb to orbit (a major accomplishment in its own right) then, because even with one Merlin engine throttled down all the way, the Falcon 9 stage has a thrust to weight >1, it can’t hover. Because of Falcon 9/Merlin’s outstanding T/W, the Falcon’s flight computer must use the stage’s inertia from its final free-fall to compensate for the T/W. As the vehicle approaches touchdown, the flight control system must measure/calculate altitude, location, inertia, aerodynamic forces and engine thrust so that the solution converges at the moment of touchdown on something the size of an office building roof in the middle of the 41 million square mile Atlantic ocean. This is indescribably impressive.

      Not to take away from Blue’s success! What a great surprise and treat for everyone! Gotta love it.

      Well, almost everyone. Where’s the hateful Gary Church comment about newspace and how LEO isn’t really space bla bla bla?

      • Joe

        “The approach of Falcon 9 is an order of magnitude more impressive and difficult feat.”

        Accepting that to be true, if an order of magnitude less difficult approach is available; why not use it?

        “because even with one Merlin engine throttled down all the way, the Falcon 9 stage has a thrust to weight >1, it can’t hover.”

        As an example of what I mean the RL-105A engines used on the DC-X were designed to be throttled down to 10% and it would seem some level of throttling would be required for the New Shepard as well.

        If the Falcon 9 First Stage was intended from the Design/Initial Manufacture phase to perform vertical landings shouldn’t a hover capability have been included in it’s initial requirements?

        Not trying to start a fight, just asking.

        • order of magnitude less difficult approach is available; why not use it?
          ‘Cause there IS no other approach. If you’re going to orbit vs. just a pop-up for a 4 minute look-around – – – it’s WAY different. It’s a top fuel dragster vs. a Toyota Camry.

          If the Falcon 9 First Stage was intended from the Design/Initial Manufacture phase to perform vertical landings shouldn’t a hover capability have been included in it’s initial requirements?

          No.
          Look, the RL-10 is a heavy, complex, expander cycle, LH2 upper stage engine (wonderful engine BTW).
          On the other hand, the SpaceX Merlin engine uses a gas-generator cycle with a pintle injector, and it uses the fuel (kerosene) for hydraulic fluid. The Merlin can only go so-slow before it just stops working. Which is fine because the Merlin has a fantastic thrust to weight ratio, plus it’s simple to manufacture and maintain. That good thrust to weight ratio is important when you’re trying to accelerate from zero to mach 25 as fast as you can.

          Designing in a super low thrust “hover” mode would seriously compromise the Merlin’s primary function, AND there’d be no point to it anyway. The F9’s return to earth flight profile works brilliantly, thank you very much. The falling over after touchdown thing has just a consequence of high winds at the off-shore pad and/or getting the bugs out, NOT coming in too fast. The Falcon 9’s avionics managed the descent energy perfectly every time a “landing” was attempted.
          Hovering is just not a requirement.

          F9 landings on that floating barge are just demos for certification and debugging, not the ultimate goal. The goal is to return to the launch site. Landing back at the ranch will be much easier than landing at sea, primarily because if the weather is good enough for a launch, odds are the weather will be good enough for the first stage landing a few minutes later.

          • Joe

            “‘Cause there IS no other approach. If you’re going to orbit vs. just a pop-up for a 4 minute look-around – – – it’s WAY different. It’s a top fuel dragster vs. a Toyota Camry.”

            I will have to respectfully disagree. The actual orbital Delta Clipper was to have a an LH2/LOX engine, that would have had throttling capability to allow a hover maneuver and performance to reach orbit 20 years ago.

            “On the other hand, the SpaceX Merlin engine uses a gas-generator cycle with a pintle injector, and it uses the fuel (kerosene) for hydraulic fluid. The Merlin can only go so-slow before it just stops working.”

            Then if a hover capability would be desirable, perhaps a different engine design would have been advisable.

            As far as the rest of the (rather strident) SpaceX infomercial goes, time will tell. Especially about the return to launch site maneuver; which will require considerably more fuel reserve than the Falcon 9 has demonstrated to date.

            Now, since you are already resorting to typing in all caps (the internet version of yelling), this is a good time to terminate the discussion.

            As previously stated, not trying to start a fight.

            • Public Message – (Joe Do Not Read)

              Delta Clipper was to have a an LH2/LOX engine
              I was to be married to a super model and win the AMA Supercross by now too.
              The Delta Clipper (w/ aerospike engine) never made it past vaporware stage because building a SSTO vehicle with the mass fraction of an egg was beyond the-state-of-the art 20 years ago.
              It was beyond the state-of-the-art 20 minutes ago.

              if a hover capability would be desirable.
              It’s not.
              The desire is to accelerate a payload mass (=$$$$) to 17,500 mph at a substantially lower cost than has been the norm, not to be a rocket powered helicopter.

              SpaceX infomercial? Cool, thank you very much.

              …return to launch site maneuver; which will require considerably more fuel reserve than the Falcon 9 has demonstrated
              Nope. It won’t.
              The F9’s landing booster tests have set down at at sea because of FAA flight safety rules, not some sort of lack of range or something (I know I know Falcon 9 v1.0 was a little shy).
              When the FAA and other gov agencies are satisfied, F9s will land back at the launch site (probably in Texas initially). You know Texas, it’s like a whole ‘nother country.

              -end-

              Oh sorry -END-

              (gotta love this twofer; I can annoy Joe with some CAPs and drive Gary Church nuts with praise for SpaceX, Blue Origin and all the folks in NewSpace)

              • Joe

                “Joe Do Not Read”

                Was not going to follow your orders until I read:

                “The Delta Clipper (w/ aerospike engine)…”

                The Delta Clipper Program examined a concept that used a plug nozzle aerospike (very) early in the program and some illustrative artwork was produced based on it, but the aerospike was eliminated early in the design cycle.

                The Delta Clipper design that actually won the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) contract used 8 Bell Nozzle Engines.

                Congratulations. In starting your attempted juvenile snark attack, you managed to get your very first “fact” wrong.

                Skipping the rest of the drivel and jumping to the end, we get:

                “gotta love this twofer; I can annoy Joe with some CAPs …”

                Yes, you are exactly correct. The whole purpose of these comments sections is to find posting eccentricities that you hope will annoy other readers.

                Again, congratulations. You are the first I have encountered to explicitly label themselves a classic internet troll.

                Prattle on. Someday someone may actually take you seriously – If you ever Grow Up.

                • se jones

                  boy you are one thinned skinned guy.

                  “The Delta Clipper design that actually won… (SDIO) contract used 8 Bell Nozzle Engines”

                  Well great. That design never got past viewgraph stage either, nor did the sexy Venture Star SSTO with its linear aerospike engine.

                  Both were cool designs that were beyond the state of the art then -or now.

                  Look Joe, try not to zoom right past the central point and go straight to hair splitting and name calling, that gets tiresome for everyone.

                  Again, the goal of SpaceX is not to make a rocket powered helicopter, a different engine or heavily modified Merlin just to allow hover would be counterproductive.

                  There’s been a flame war going over F9 vs. New Shepard, most of it pointless because they are different vehicles for different purposes.
                  In any case, it’s a beautiful thing because people are arguing over actual, real, flying hardware and not some government vaporware program. Huray!
                  Oops, HURAY!

                  • Joe

                    You might want to read Jim Hillhouse’s “hair splitting and name calling” below (November 26, 2015 at 8:27 am), it was after all directed to you.

                    But that would require you to think and learn something, so the there is obviously no value in it to you.

                    Have a nice Thanksgiving.

                    • se jones

                      Name calling? Sorry Joe, I don’t see “juvenile” “drivel” or “troll” anywhere in Jim’s reply.

                      I can’t really disagree with anything he says about the Merlin engine, throttling was and is still unnecessary. So what was your point again?

                      Calling an SRB “reusable” tortures the word somewhat, but that’s been litigated to death elsewhere and SLS will throw them away.

                    • Joe

                      se jones,

                      Your ability for selective reading and interpretation are impressive.

                      He said the throttling capability was not considered needed when the Merlin’s were designed because SpaceX thought the first stage would be recovered by parachute/water landing.

                      As for as calling you a troll, as mentioned at the time when you brag that your sole intention in posting is to annoy others; you have called yourself a troll.

                      Now, below you seem to have found someone else you believe to be your nemesis (you own Moriarity as it were) Gary Church. Why not try to prove you are not a troll and:

                      (1) Go pick a fight with him.
                      (2) Leave me and others who wish to have a productive conversation alone.

            • Tim Andrews

              “Then if a hover capability would be desirable”

              With a person at the controls, I could see hovering being desirable. It would provide additional time for decision making about landing location.

              For a mission that is landing under automation at a prepared site, why would hovering be desirable? It has the downside of requiring more fuel – a precious resource in a return flight profile, but I can’t think of any advantages it would offer to make up for that cost.

              Certainly it buys time for attitude and horizontal position correction if either is too far off to allow an immediate descent to the landing target, but it seems to me it would make more sense to get those in line rather than apply a band-aid to the flight path later (i.e. hovering to horizontally correct).

              • Joe

                If you look at the landing videos both the vehicles appear to develop a sort of pendulum motion swing around the top of the vehicle as they approach the ground (at about 1,000 ft. for the New Sheppard per the video).

                The New Sheppard appears to be able to gain control of this motion due to being able reignite its engines (at about 5,000 ft. again per the video) and briefly hover before touching down. It looks like that brief hover allowed the final righting of the vehicle (even Artificial Intelligence requires a little time to translate intent into action) .

                As has been unmercifully beaten by now the Falcon 9 could not attempt this(even if it had sufficient fuel) as it’s Merlin Engines were not intended to be throttled because when they were designed SpaceX thought the first stage would be recovered by parachute/water landing.

                As a result SpaceX is trying to get the Merlin’s to perform a task for which they were not designed.

                • Tim Andrews

                  ” It looks like that brief hover allowed the final righting of the vehicle (even Artificial Intelligence requires a little time to translate intent into action) .”

                  Looking at the various angles, I don’t think it actually did hover, but rather slowed its descent then sped the descent back up. From one angle, it looked like a hover, from the rest it appeared to continue dropping altitude frame after frame.

                  Yes, for sure, I can see where hovering can increase the time available to make corrections, it just seems to me that the desirable solution would be to correct before it’s too late and a hover is required, rather than hover to correct.

                  • Joe

                    “Looking at the various angles, I don’t think it actually did hover, but rather slowed its descent then sped the descent back up. From one angle, it looked like a hover, from the rest it appeared to continue dropping altitude frame after frame.”

                    Do not want to get into a debate about hovering vs. “rather slowed its descent then sped the descent back up”. The point is that it could maneuver and correct it’s orientation (including angular momentum) before touchdown and the Falcon 9 first stage cannot. Due to lack of throttling capability of the Merlin Engines it can only negate it’s translational velocity with a (very short) burn literally the instant before landing (crashing).

                    “Yes, for sure, I can see where hovering can increase the time available to make corrections, it just seems to me that the desirable solution would be to correct before it’s too late and a hover is required, rather than hover to correct.”

                    It might be more desirable, but is it achievable. Both the Falcon 9 First Stage and the New Shepard have active fins intended to aid in that purpose, yet both still had rotational motion approaching landing. The New Shepard could use its engines to control that, the Falcon 9 could not. The New Shepard landed, the Falcon 9 crashed.

                    I would not be surprised if SpaceX eventually managed to land the Falcon 9 First Stage, the question is will that be due to active control or getting lucky? Will they be able to do it reliably?

                    • Tim Andrews

                      “It might be more desirable, but is it achievable. ”

                      Good point, if every solution still leads to needing significant near-ground correction, hovering might be the only workable solution.

                      “will that be due to active control or getting lucky?”

                      Or by changing the playing field… I haven’t seen measurements on the landing pad at Landing Complex one and how that compares in scale to their barge. just that fact that it’s a fixed surface at a constant position will remove a number of variables.

                      “Will they be able to do it reliably?”

                      Yep, that will be important for both SpaceX and Blue Origin – that the big kicker – you’ve got a booster back – but what’s it going to take to inspect it, refurbish it and refly it, and how does that compare to just building a new one.

                    • Joe

                      Tim,

                      “Or by changing the playing field…”

                      Not really sure a larger/more fixed landing pad will help the problem. SpaceX has been doing a heck of a job of hitting the bulls eye, they just keep hitting it at the wrong angle/speed.

                      Not an expert in aerodynamics, but that would seem to be an interaction with the atmosphere and thus very complex and changeable with each landing attempt (will resist the urge to make “every snow flake is different” analogy here).

                      Reliability will indeed be important for both SpaceX and Blue Origin. Blue Origin apparently plans several dozen New Shepard flights before committing to flying passengers. If they succeed that will go a long way towards proving reliability.

                      Then they would have to prove they can build a TSTO First Stage that can perform it’s launcher duties and maintain reserves to also land.

                      “that the big kicker – you’ve got a booster back – but what’s it going to take to inspect it, refurbish it and refly it, and how does that compare to just building a new one.”

                      Truer words were never spoken.

                    • Tim Andrews

                      “SpaceX has been doing a heck of a job of hitting the bulls eye, they just keep hitting it at the wrong angle/speed.”

                      From my admittedly arm-chair analysis it looked like they (SpaceX’s failed barge landings) were at wrong angle/speed because they were either still making a lateral move to get to the bullseye, or correcting attitude from having just made a lateral move to get to the bullseye when they impacted. I’m just thinking that changing the rules of the game – making the radius of the acceptable landing area larger can eliminate or reduce the need for that final correction. Increasing radius as a circle from the lamppost (for a random walk, I find the wandering drunk more entertaining than the snowflake 🙂 increases the odds of being under the booster before that final correction altitude is reached.

                      Of course that’s all utter conjecture on my end. I still haven’t been able to find any measurements to compare the size of the pad at LC-1 to the barge. It just seems to me, it’s a whole lot easier to pour a bigger pad than to start lashing together barges.

                      Looks like we may get to find out in a few weeks. Even if a fixed pad takes out a lot of variables, there are whole slew of new ones added to the mix before the booster is near its landing zone – more cross-range to cover, changed staging speed, new iteration of the engines, etc.

                    • Joe

                      Would still say the rotational instability is due to interaction with the atmosphere (swaying motion looks very similar in both vehicles), maybe we will find out someday.

                      The retrograde maneuver required for a return to launch site landing will be quite a “gas guzzler” (SpaceX Shotwell acknowledged a 30% gross payload hit and people I have talked to place it more in the 35% range). If they ever attempt the maneuver, it will be interesting to know what the Falcon 9 actual payload would be.

                      Also how will Blue Origin operate. Try a Fly Back or land down range, if the latter landing where?

                    • Tim Andrews

                      “SpaceX Shotwell acknowledged a 30% gross payload hit”

                      I wish I could find it again, but some months back a space consulting group from the southern US (Alabama, if I remember correctly) published a well presented study modeling a return to launch profile using publicly available data on Falcon 9 v1.0 capabilities. They were estimating the penalty would be as high as 40%.

                      It will be interesting to see what if works out to be, if those numbers ever get released. V1.1 increased propellant capacity, supposedly in part to make up some of that difference, and the Full Thrust upgrade is adding some more propellant through densification, and increasing tank volume in the second stage to allow for earlier stage separation to reduce the forward velocity that needs to be cancelled in the boost-back burn and the travel distance to the pad.

                      Wings a rudder and landing gear made a significant payload penalty for the Space Shuttles, too. As long as the remaining payload capacity stays above mission requirements, it doesn’t matter what percentage is lost. The economics will just boil down to what has more value – revenue from a secondary payload to make use of that capacity, or the still unknown cost delta between a new or refurbished booster.

                      If they can make reuse work, the choosing single use based on economic and or payload size needs would provide a flexibility a vehicle like the shuttle didn’t have. It couldn’t use its wings to carry a heavier payload instead of land.

                      “maybe we will find out someday.”

                      Someday may be as soon as a couple of weeks from now. According to our local paper, the FAA application for the Orbcomm-2 launch (NET December 15th) includes a landing attempt at Landing Complex 1.

                      “Also how will Blue Origin operate. Try a Fly Back or land down range, if the latter landing where?”

                      I’m thinking only Jeff Bezos’ inner circle knows that right now, but if I were in Vegas I’d put my money on barge landing, because of their patent. If they’re going to go for downrange from LC-36, it’s the only real option. Other than that it’s boost-back to the cape, or boost a whole lot further to Europe or Africa, or only launch within a very narrow southern inclination window and land in the Bahamas..

                    • Joe

                      “They were estimating the penalty would be as high as 40%.”

                      Would really like to get a look at that study. Like I said the folks I talked to said around 35%, but that was a sort of “seat of the pants” analysis.

                      The LOX densification thing was over discussed in a previous comments section.

                      The subject is way out of my area of primary expertise, but it is my understanding that to get significant densification the temperature has to be lowered to the point that the flow characteristics of the LOX change (it is actually referred to as Slush Oxygen).

                      Again, to the best of my knowledge, Slush Oxygen has never been produced in industrial quantities and no rocket engine has ever used it (even in ground testing).

                      If SpaceX plans to use it in unmodified Merlin Engines, that should prove “interesting”.

                      This is an interesting discussion, but the chain is getting rather long. Perhaps we should pick it up again at some future point in another comments section.

                    • Tim Andrews

                      “Perhaps we should pick it up again at some future point in another comments section.”

                      I’m sure the opportunity will come up, sooner or later.

          • Se,

            The Falcon 9 was from inception designed for a parachute water landing. The story of why the chutes didn’t work out is a short one but immaterial for now. Eventually, being unable to successfully recover a first-stage booster in anything like a reusable form, which NASA had been doing for a generation with the SRB’s, SpaceX adapted Falcon 9 to powered vertical landing as a recovery mode.

            The Merlin engine does not have the wide throttle range of the BE-3 and BE-4 because, designed as the primary propulsion for the Falcon 1/9 first stage, which were as mentioned above to be recovered after parachuting to a water landing, throttling was unnecessary and therefore an unwanted complication to the engines development.

            Blue Origin and Masten are continuing the work innovated by the McDonnell Douglas team that developed the DC-X. It’s obviously good to see that work continue.

            • Joe

              Jim,

              Thank you for the input.

              I have had the feeling that SpaceX was attempting to “back drive” a vertical powered landing capability onto the Falcon 9 after the design of the Merlin Engines was fixed. Have not said it because I was not sure, this is a confirmation of that feeling.

              Maybe they will succeed, maybe not; but the point is that the difference between the Falcon 9 and the New Shepard (as far as vertical landings is concerned) is that the New Shepard was designed from the outset for powered vertical landings and the Falcon 9 was not.

              Thanks again. This kind of information exchange is what (I think at least) these comment forums should be for.

            • Conway Costigan

              “-unable to successfully recover a first-stage booster in anything like a reusable form, which NASA had been doing for a generation with the SRB’s-”

              The two shuttle SRB’s which in their improved form after Challenger NEVER failed and gave a total lift-off thrust of 5.6 million pounds- which make the two billionaire hobbyist toys look like a joke.

              The lost opportunity to put large payloads up was due to political scheming resulting in rail transportable segmented SRB’s being chosen instead of the far more powerful barge transported monolithic designs- which had already been test fired in the 60’s.

              http://www.astronautix.com/engines/aj2602.htm

              The great lost opportunity was putting really big payloads up with very large monolithic SRB’s. A pair of the largest concepts studied would have resulted in a vehicle with over 30 million pounds of lift-off thrust.

              http://www.astronautix.com/engines/325solid.htm

              Solids were a short-term-cost-saving-short-cut using Polaris and Minuteman technology. Solids were and are toxic and more expensive than the best design solution; the pressure-fed booster recovered exactly like the shuttle SRB’s. Unfortunately large pressure-fed boosters have no military application.

              The present Blue-X dog and pony show will never go anywhere. The RS-25E and 5 segment SRB’s on the SLS are the only hope.

  • john hare

    FYI, Musks’ claim that suborbital is 1-2% of the energy of orbital is wrong on several counts.

    It implies 1-2% of the difficulty. If this were true, then many of the ‘lessor’ players would be flying now on a regular basis.

    Mass ratios are normally a factor of 4 different for the two flight regimes.

    Atmospheric and gravity losses are almost the same.

    Other than shorter duration, every subsystem in an orbital vehicle is present in a suborbital one except for the heat shield.

    Elon looks silly for the twitter (and presumably other venue) statements.

    Blue deserves honest respect for accomplishment.

    • Joe

      Hi John,

      Good points.

      There is another more narrow point I would make concerning the specific issue of the final approach of a Vertical Landing Vehicle.

      Both the Falcon 9 and New Shepard vehicles are essentially long thin tubes, therefore:

      (1) There Terminal Velocities are similar.
      (2) From the videos their approach angle is also very similar.
      (3) Again from the videos they both develop a pendulum type swing around the upper tube.

      This means that the approach landing capability of each vehicle are a comparable challenge, regardless of how different the earlier part of their flight profiles may have been.

      New Shepard appears to have succeeded because it has the ability to reignite its engine and throttle it to control the descent. This requires two things: (1) the fuel reserve for the extra engine burn time and (2) the ability to throttle the engine.

      The Falcon 9 first stage cannot do this (regardless of fuel reserves) because the Merlin Engines cannot be throttled.

      As was “beaten to death” above (but finally resolved by Jim Hillhouse) this is because the Merlin’s were designed when SpaceX intended to recover/reuse the Falcon 9 first stage by parachute/water landing. When that approach proved untenable they moved to a vertical powered landing without any redesign of the engines.

      SpaceX is therefore trying to get the Merlin’s to perform a “trick” they were not designed to do. Maybe they will succeed, maybe they will not.

      For Blue Origin they have now proved that their system allows a powered vertical landing. An extensive flight test program (which they appear to be planning) will show whether they can do it reliably). Their challenge will then be to show they can build a reusable TSTO first stage that can maintain the fuel reserve to perform a landing.

      The successful flight of the New Shepard is only one of many steps, but it is a significant step and you are correct:

      “Blue deserves honest respect for accomplishment.”

      • Conway Costigan

        “Blue deserves honest respect for accomplishment.”

        I can’t help but consider the NewSpace companies the enemies of space exploration. As a distraction and a dead end they cause far more damage than any good they do. Far more.

        The only worthwhile goal, in my view, is the ice on the Moon. Not LEO and not Mars and not hobby rockets. The Super Heavy Lift Vehicle, the wet workshop, and the means to exploit that ice, whether with human-rated or robot landers, should be the central focus of all space advocacy for years to come. Period.

        • Joe

          Do not disagree with you about the value of Lunar ISRU. In fact am a proponent.

          Same with HLVs.

          However a means of transportation for crew/light cargo to a staging orbit to support of cis-lunar space development will eventually be needed and the Blue Origin project might supply that means.

          Since they are pursuing that goal (rather successfully, so far) without receiving or requesting government support, why not just wish them luck.

          At worst, they are not hurting anything.

          • Conway Costigan

            As I said Joe, the only worthwhile goal is that ice. I don’t think a “staging orbit” is a valid excuse for these toys. The most efficient way to go to the Moon is the direct launch of a Super Heavy Lift Vehicle. Mating two 130 ton payloads in LEO and then sending them to the Moon does not require any “crew/light cargo” operations.

            As I said, because they are indeed a distraction and ultimately a dead end, it is real damage. The NewSpace movement has done more lasting harm than both shuttle disasters. The billions of dollars and precious time that have been poured into commercial cargo and crew since the Columbia disaster have been a complete waste.

            The space station to nowhere was supposed to close shop this year and it would have been better to let it run a ten year course and de-orbit it 5 years ago so resources could be shifted to BEO operations.

            LEO is a trap and has been portrayed and hyped for years now as some brave new frontier when nothing could be further from the truth.

            LEO and deep space have about as much in common as a catfish pond and the North Atlantic. In other words, LEO is not space. The edge of outer space is not a couple hundred miles up- it is actually an order of magnitude farther in GEO. Another order of magnitude away is the nearest something (the Moon). Between GEO and the Moon is the “cislunar sea” and this is a very small body of nothing compared to the next area of interest found between Mars and Jupiter that does contain some-things; the asteroid belt.

            These billionaire hobby projects are hiding the hard truth about human travel beyond cislunar space; Beyond Earth and Lunar Orbit (BELO) will initially require nuclear energy. I base this statement on the work of Eugene Parker who described the “only guaranteed solution” to shielding space travelers from the heavy nuclei component of galactic cosmic radiation; hundreds of tons of water or plastic. About 500 tons for a small capsule and for any long duration mission in practical terms this equates to well over a thousand tons and probably thousands for a larger crew.

            A survey of propulsion systems finds only one practical solution to pushing a multi-thousand ton radiation shield around the solar system; hydrogen bombs. This could be called the “Parker-Dyson-Spudis effect” in honor of the before-mentioned Eugene Parker and Freeman Dyson (nuclear pulse propulsion pioneer) and Paul Spudis.

            Dr. Spudis’ work revealed the source for Parker’s shielding and the only launch site for Dyson’s propulsion system; the ice on (and) the Moon. The Parker-Dyson-Spudis effect is completely rejected by the mainstream. Giant spaceships when, due to the NewSpace movement, they “must be cheap”, H-bombs in space are a non-starter, and going to the Moon, since it bypasses the NewSpace LEO business plan, is also verboten. Not to mention that it is just hard to wrap one’s head around considering the history of Earth’s flagship space agency.

            Back to the original problem; we are not going to be handing H-bombs over to “entrepreneurs” or even mega-corporations. The entire profit-motive-flavor of NewSpace is tainted with a toxic imperative to go cheap and get rich. There is no cheap.

            • Joe

              OK, one more pass at this and then you can have the last word (after all, he who posts past wins – right).

              Two Points:

              (1) Blue Origin is doing its work on private (not public) funds. Why do you oppose that? Even if it is a waste of money, it is their money. Do you propose that private operations not be able to invest their money as they choose?

              (2) You seem to support an O’Neill space settlement model. That would require millions of people to be moved from the Earth’s surface into space. How do you plan to move all those millions into space from Earth?

              • Conway Costigan

                I don’t want to have the last word, I want you and anyone reading this to clearly understand the U.S. is headed down a road with a dead end just around the corner. Don’t take my word for it:

                http://www.theverge.com/2015/11/24/9792854/neil-degrasse-tyson-interview-delusions-of-space-enthusiasts

                “The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier. That’s just not going to happen, and it’s not going to happen for three really good reasons: One, it is very expensive. Two, it is very dangerous to do it first. Three, there is essentially no return on that investment that you’ve put in for having done it first. So if you’re going to bring in investors or venture capitalists and say, “Hey, I have an idea, I want to put the first humans on Mars.” They’ll ask, “How much will it cost?” You say, “A lot.” They’ll ask, “Is it dangerous?” You’ll say, “Yes, people will probably die.” They’ll ask, “What’s the return on investment?” and you’ll say “Probably nothing, initially.” It’s a five-minute meeting. Corporations need business models, and they need to satisfy shareholders, public or private.”

                Every new hobby rocket triumph is a nail in the coffin of Human Space Flight Beyond Earth Orbit. The public is being bamboozled into giving up on funding the hardware necessary to go back to the Moon and use lunar resources to create a cislunar infrastructure. Why should the NASA HSF budget be doubled or tripled if internet entrepreneurs can do it all as a hobby?

                It is ruinous.

                As for moving millions of people into space….once there is a chain of solar power satellites (manufactured with lunar resources) in GEO powering civilization by beaming the energy down, that energy can also be used do what NewSpace is falsely claiming they can do right now- make spaceflight as routine as commercial air travel. Microwave beam propulsion bends the rocket equation in the direction of SSTO using a monopropellant.

                The beam is the dream.

                And whether you are a climate change skeptic or the opposite- that is a way to justify O’Neill’s space industry that stands by itself as the beginning of a new age of prosperity and expansion into the solar system.

                • James

                  Space exploration and the tapping of the Moon’s diverse and extensive resources will occur within the political context and constraints of the many billions of individuals living in nations on the planet Earth.

                  Europe, Russia, China, India, Japan, and many other political and economic entities have, or can have, financial, technical, and launch resources that are much more extensive than those of SpaceX and Blue Origin.

                  The President’s Mars noise machine is not impressing many folks outside of America nor does it seem to have won over the rank and file engineers of NASA, most of whom seem to believe that going to the Moon, as per the legal requirements of our current space law, is the smart thing to do.

                  Anything Blue Origin, or SpaceX, does can eventually be replicated and improved upon by other space folks in America and many other countries.

                  Furthermore, there are some national laws and international space and trade treaties that will need some modifications if any space company, is to have an officially designated, or de facto, American cislunar or beyond cislunar, space monopoly.

                  Any attempts to establish any company with a de facto American monopoly on large launcher capabilities to cislunar space, or over space resources, would most likely also run into strong and ongoing political, technical, and economic competition within America and across the world.

                  Already, you, the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Dr. Paul Spudis, and lots of other folks appear to be speaking out against the idea of letting the public become “bamboozled into giving up on funding the hardware necessary to go back to the Moon and use lunar resources to create a cislunar infrastructure.”

                  And many folks have noticed that it is the government space programs of America and China that are prominently featured in the movie ‘The Martian’.

                  As to the international legalities of space resources, on November 27, 2015 in the Ottawa Citizen, Cassandra Steer noted in the article ‘The commercial space race’:

                  “The extraction of resources in the high seas is regulated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and by the Deep Seabed Authority. If we want to support this new entrepreneurship in space, states need to agree on a new international law regime, rather than attempting to circumvent the existing one.”

                  Note that “Dr. Cassandra Steer is the executive director of the McGill Centre for Research in Air and Space Law.”

                  The current legal and future international cislunar space leadership role of NASA, the SLS, and Orion in enabling human Lunar missions is pretty clear if you read the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267), despite the obvious unwillingness of our current President and NASA’s leadership to fully implement that law.

                  After five years, lots of folks in America and other countries are getting tired of NASA’s leadership’s Mars nonsense rhetoric and their clear and ongoing failure to provide the planning needed for the legally required NASA led international Lunar missions.

                  However, America’s continued funding and building of the Lunar mission SLS and Orion, Blue Origin’s reusable hydrolox powered New Shepard launcher, and SpaceX’s serious attempts to land the kerolox First Stage of their Falcon 9 along with the development work for a diversity of new spacecraft and launchers in America and the rest of the world should make it obvious that we humans are finally designing and building the some of the tools required for a Lunar base to tap the Moon’s water and other resources that are needed to accelerate the ongoing development of cislunar space and lower the risks and costs of both cislunar and beyond cislunar human and robotic missions.

                  The only big question I have at the moment is, “Which countries and companies are going to build the Lunar Landers?”

                  • Tim Andrews

                    “Which countries and companies are going to build the Lunar Landers?”

                    That’s the multi-billion dollar question.

                    • Conway Costigan

                      If Bezos really wanted to contribute to space exploration instead of indulging in space clown tourism for billionauts, he would build a lander for the SLS to send to the Moon. The BE4 is far too powerful, yet not powerful enough to replace the 5 segment SRB’s, and the BE3 uses the wrong propellant for a lunar lander (hydrogen is far too much trouble to maintain even on the short trip to the Moon).

                      So listen up Jeff and Tory:
                      Convert the BE3 to burn methane and adapt the ULA piston engine system to maintain the LOX/Methane lander propellants for the lunar journey- and of course build the lander. Then put it on the SLS.

                • James

                  Conway Costigan – As per your November 29, 2015 at 7:30 pm comment:

                  “The beam is the dream.”

                  Yep. I came to a similar conclusion about forty years ago.

                  If you don’t already have it, you may want to find and download the free 698 page NASA manuscript (NASA/TM—2012-217014): ‘Beamed-Energy Propulsion (BEP) Study’ By Patrick George and Raymond Beach 2012.

                  Concerning mining space resources as related to expanded space opportunities, see Marcia S. Smith’s December 2, 2015 spacepolicyonline article ‘White House, Commercial Space Companies Praise New Space Law’ wherein we find the comment:

                  “Gold cautioned, though, that the law is just the beginning of the process and it is not yet time for ‘popping the champagne.’ He said the law is ‘rife with the opportunity for misunderstanding and misconception’ and expects that at the first meeting of the U.N. Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPOUS) next year, there will be ‘outcries from many nations about the U.S. flaunting the Outer Space Treaty.'”

                  The development of reusable Landers and launchers by various companies and nations could enable the innovations needed for the reduction of both the risks and costs in gaining access to the Moon’s resources and should raise many interesting and ongoing political, economic, and technical issues around the world.

                  I’m waiting for lots of nifty news articles and research papers on how to recover and reuse the valuable hydrolox powered core of the SLS and still maintain the capability of the SLS to send 130 metric tons uphill to LEO. It should be doable.

                  Note the December 2, 2015 SPACE.com article by Robert Z. Pearlman titled ‘SpaceX May Try Land-Based Rocket Landing This Month, NASA Official Says’.

                  And also consider the anti-SLS tone in The Space Review article of November 30, 2015 ‘How the new SLS engine contract is a step in the wrong direction’ by Gerald Black wherein he states: “The author believes that the large pot of money spent on the SLS would be better spent on developing a reusable commercial super heavy lift launch vehicle such as SpaceX’s BFR rocket.”

                  The article by Mr. Black strongly suggests to me that a plan for an option to make the core of the SLS reusable should be developed and given lots of publicity.

                  Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard capsule and launcher system is impressive precisely because it is a hydrolox powered system which is great for an upper stage or a system like the hydrolox powered SLS core that also makes good use of two very large solid rocket boosters.

                  In theory, if you put a modified reusable New Shepard capsule and launcher on top of a large reusable kerolox launcher’s first stage that has at least one engine that has, or can be throttled down to, a thrust equal to the empty weight of that first stage, you might have a cost effective, reliable, and completely reusable launcher system.

                  For a minute, consider the Falcon Heavy that might have a total first stage three core empty mass of somewhere around 57 tonnes or around 125,000 lbs.

                  Each Merlin 1D engine has a sea level thrust of about 165,000 pounds of thrust at sea level.

                  If the Falcon Heavy kept all three first stage cores together during the flight, and if a Merlin 1D can be throttled to 75% of normal thrust, then it might be feasible to keep the central engine, on the central core of the three core first stage, providing thrust until the moment of actual landing of the three core first stage.

                  Don’t get too excited one way or an other, because putting a modified New Shepard capsule and launcher system on the first stage of a Falcon Heavy is just a thought experiment.

                  Other evolved launchers that use tri-core first stages might also be similarly reusable.

                  I downloaded from somewhere a nifty diagram of Japan’s upcoming hydrolox H-3 launcher that includes an evolved tri-core version of its first stage. Add some of the H-3’s optional solid propellant boosters and the evolved tri-core first stage of the H-3 could be powerful, useful for Lunar missions, and potentially reusable.

    • James

      Mass ratios are an important part of the ‘laws of rocket physics’ and perhaps some approximations would be useful for those readers who don’t want to do math problems.

      According to the information from Chapter 7 ‘The Price of Speed’ in Arthur C. Clarke’s book ‘The Promise of Space’, we learn that an empty rocket with a weight of 1,000 lbs and is capable of carrying 1,720 lbs of propellants when fully loaded, and thus has a total mass of 2,720 lbs, or a mass ratio of full to empty weight of 2.72, and it should be able to achieve a speed, or velocity, equal to its exhaust velocity.

      Of course a higher mass ratio than the full to empty mass ratio of 2.72 could be made possible through lighter propellant tanks, engines, control system, and other things such as landing structures, or even a less heavy payload, and would enable the rocket to achieve a higher velocity than its exhaust velocity.

      Mr. Clarke notes that some rockets at the time of his writing the book, or about 1967, could achieve mass ratios of around 7.4 which should have allowed the rockets while in space to achieve velocities equal to twice that of their exhaust velocities.

      He also notes that a rocket or spacecraft that is built with extremely lightweight material for its propellant tanks and supporting structures and can only operate in space could have a mass ratio of around 20 and would thus be able to achieve a speed of three times that of its exhaust velocity.

      Even higher mass ratios for spacecraft that are completely built space in may eventually be possible.

      This leads us to considering the exhaust velocities for propellants and the complicated trade off between large and heavy propellant tanks for some types of not dense propellants versus much smaller and lighter tanks for other more dense propellants that unfortunately usually also have lower exhaust velocities.

      Launchers with rocket engines using kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants have sea level exhaust velocities around 6,500 miles per hour. If such a launcher has a mass ratio of 7.4, it should be able to achieve a speed or velocity of twice that of its 6,500 miles per hour exhaust velocity. The launcher should be able to achieve about 13,000 miles per hour.

      Launchers using rocket engines that burn liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen have sea level exhaust velocities around 8,500 miles per hour. If such a launcher has a mass ratio of 7.4, it could be able to achieve a velocity of about 17,000 miles per hour.

      Obviously liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, or hydrolox, rocket engines do offer very useful high exhaust velocities.

      The new BE-3 hydrolox rocket engine was used to power the Blue Origin’s New Shepard system’s flight, but so far I haven’t seen the vehicle’s mass ratio.

      Four hydrolox RL-10 engines were used to power the impressive 12 meters tall cone like reusable rocket known as the Delta Clipper Experimental, or DC-X, that flew 12 times during the 1993 — 1996 period of time. It had an empty mass of around 9,100 kilograms, or 20,100 lbs, and a fully loaded mass of around 18,900 kilograms, or 41,700 lbs. So its mass ratio was around 2 which would suggest that if it was in space the DC-X would not be able to reach a velocity equal to its exhaust velocity.

      If the DC-X had been built with an empty mass of 20,000 lbs and when fully loaded with propellant had a mass of 54,400 lbs, then it would have had a mass ratio of 2.72, and if it was in space, it would have been able to achieve a velocity equal to its exhaust velocity.

      The amazing hydrolox RS-25 rocket engines worked along with the SRBs to power the Space Shuttles into space. SRBs and RS-25s will also power the new Space Launch System or SLS.

      Isp is a good measure of how much propellant is needed to impart momentum. And propellants burned in rocket engines with a higher Isp means less propellant is needed to impart a given momentum, according to Wikapedia.

      So hydolox engines, with a vacuum Isp of around 420 to 475, have lots of interest and support.

      However, liquid hydrogen isn’t dense and thus requires a large hydrogen tank and this adds undesirable weight which, because of the mass ratio relationship to final rocket velocity noted above, hurts the performance of hydrolox launchers.

      Kerosene and liquid oxygen, or kerolox rocket engines have two dense propellants and thus a smaller and lighter kerosene tank is possible than the hydrogen tank for a hydrolox vehicle. However, a kerolox engine usually has a vacuum Isp of around 300 to 350, which is clearly a lot lower than what is possible with hydrolox engines.

      Currently, there seems to be some interest in rockets that can burn dense propellants, and thus have small and lightweight tanks, and yet have a high Isp, such as burning H2O2 with Lithium Aluminum Hexahydride, or LiAlH6, with a theoretical vacuum Isp of 469.

      Eventually, a LiAlH6 based propellant might consist of nanoparticles of LiAlH6 mixed with kerosene or propane.

      Perhaps reusable launchers, or Landers, with rocket engines mainly burning easy to store, dense, and high Isp propellants, such as H2O2 and LiAlH6, and thus with small and lightweight tanks, might be lighter, more economical, and have a higher change in velocity performance capability than reusable launcher systems, or Landers, that use hydrolox engines with a large and heavy hydrogen tank and a propellant combination that has a higher Isp and an unfortunate tendency to ‘boil off’ while sitting for a month on the surface of the Moon or Mars.

      Isp is important, but so is the mass ratio, overall size of the vehicle, reliability, costs, and the environment in which a rocket powered vehicle operates or waits.

      See also: NASA’s May 2015 report ‘Payload Performance Analysis for a Reusable Two-Stage-to-Orbit Vehicle’ by Paul V. Tartabini, James R. Beaty, Roger A. Lepsch, and Michael G. Gilbert wherein they note, “Results show that it is feasible to return both stages to the launch site with a positive payload capability equal to approximately 50% of an equivalent expendable launch vehicle.”

      • john hare

        Small follow up on your point here and in another comment downstream James.

        If super materials come available for rocket construction such as graphene you mentioned in another comment, considerable improvements become possible in launch vehicles. With vehicle mass well under 1% of Glow, mass ratio becomes essentially payload over GLOW.

        Mass ratio of 16 for kerosene vehicles gives a payload to orbit of about 6% in an SSTO.
        Mass ratio of 8 for hydrogen vehicles gives a payload to orbit of around 12% in an SSTO.
        So a million pound GLOW gives 30 and 60 tons to orbit. (27 and 54 tons metric)

        In addition, better materials allow higher chamber pressures for higher Isp for the same propellant. Also a higher available thrust to weight allows more fuel efficient flight profiles with less gravity losses. These two factors can theoretically improve mass ratios to orbit by as much as 25% for ratios of 12 and 6 for the normal propellant combinations.

        If these vehicles are RLV gas-n-go as well, cost per ton to orbit drops into the $20,000.00 range, theoretically of course. While I don’t expect improvements of this class in my lifetime, it is well to be aware that spaceflight is nowhere near its’ theoretical limits with current vehicles.

  • Tracy the Troll

    Has anyone seen a report for the time frame for when the first customers will be flying on the New Shepard to Space and how much it will cost?

    • Tim Andrews

      They haven’t published a price yet. Bezos has said 2017 as the goal for carrying people on New Shepard, but it’s still unknown how long it will take to get from there to being able to take commercial passengers.

  • Geoffrey Beslity

    The Falcon 9 uses hydrocarbon fuel. I had read that hydrocarbon fuel causes coking in the engine making it non reusable. Would methane work any better? The Shuttle’s main engines used liquid hydrogen fuel like New Shepard’s, but there were reports that it would have been cheaper to get new engines after each flight rather than overhaul them. It was cool to watch New Shepard land.

    • Conway Costigan

      The best combination of boosters and engines was originally intended for the shuttle but did not happen due to cost. The first part of the combo being very large reusable pressure-fed boosters parachuted into the sea for recovery like the solid SRB’s eventually were. With no turbopumps to get coked up pressure-feds would be recovered, washed down, stacked, and filled back up with LOX and either Kerosene or Methane (much more cost effective than disassembling, transporting,reloading,transporting, and reassembling solid segments). Methane has a somewhat higher ISP than kerosene but also requires a slightly larger fuel tank and more expensive turbopump so there is not much practical difference for a reusable booster launched from Earth. However, for a reusable turbopump-driven engine for lunar landers, Methane is the best choice for several reasons. The half-million pound thrust RS-25 was the second part of the combo and with an Isp of well over 400 still leaves any non-hydrogen engine far behind 38 years later.

      • James

        Propane/lox is denser than methane/lox and is perhaps a better choice for very large reusable pressure-fed boosters or Landers.

        See ‘ISRU Propellant Selection for Space Exploration Vehicles’ by Timothy T. Chen.

        If you are trying to land on the Moon, propane/lox, or kerosene/lox, or kerosene/H2O2 should provide a lower center of gravity for your Lander than methane/lox or hydrogen/lox.

        The risk of tipping over a Lander can have bad results. See the movie ‘The Martian’.

        Dense propellant combinations can also have a very high Isp.

        See: NOVEL ORGANOMETALLIC PROPELLANTS FOR HYPERGOLIC APPLICATIONS By T. L. Pourpoint and J. J. Rusek, wherein they note that burning dense H2O2 with Lithium Aluminum Hexahydride, or LiAlH6, can get a theoretical optimized vacuum Isp of 469.

        Perhaps reusable first stages, boosters, and Landers would be much easier to control while doing a vertical landing if they were shorter and fatter and had a much lower center of gravity.

        This low center of gravity design might become common if the first stages, boosters, and Landers had rocket engines that burned dense propellant combinations with reasonably high Isp values.

        • Conway Costigan

          Never heard of any propellant combination doing better than H2 and LOX except H2 and fluorine- and fluorine is such horrible stuff nobody wants anything to do with it. As for landing on the Moon, the main reasons to use methane are that it is much easier to maintain than hydrogen and volatiles almost certainly trapped in lunar ice will allow methane to be manufactured in situ.

  • blueoyster57

    ‘but not same as Falcon-9 plans’………looks like someone is’carrying the water’ for Space-X.

    • Blue Origin plans aren’t the same as SpaceX plans, and we made it loud and clear as any real reporting should be. As opposed to the butt kissing elsewhere. We don’t have any loyalty to SpaceX or otherwise, quite the opposite, and any regular readers to AmericaSpace know better. We gave credit where it is due & wanted to note the differences to an extent, and our reporter did a great job doing so.

  • James

    Thank you Talia Landman for your interesting article about landing the New Shepard space rocket.

    And I really like the Bezos quote you used at the end of your article:
    “‘Our fantastic team in Ken, Van Horn and Cape Canaveral is working hard not just to build space vehicles, but to bring closer the day when millions of people can live and work in space,’ said Bezos.”

    I also respect the hard work of SpaceX folks to build and fly a reliable and reusable Falcon 9 first stage.

    Let’s hope and pray that Blue Origin, SpaceX, other companies, and countries around the world are successful in their current and future efforts in designing and building reusable first stages.

    It also appears to be possible to make the 187,990 lb, or 85,270 kg, empty core of the SLS, with four RS-25s, reusable by adding four BE-3, or similar, hydrolox rocket engines to enable a vertical landing.

    The nifty throttle reduction capability of the BE-3 allows it to vary from about 490 kilonewtons, or 110,000 lbs, of sea-level thrust, down to 89 kilonewtons, or 20,000 lbs, of sea-level thrust.

    Adding a single easy to restart and throttle reduction capable Japanese expander bleed cycle LE-9 rocket engine with a vacuum thrust of 1,448 kilonewtons, or 326,000 lbs of force, to an evolved SLS core, with four RS-25s, might also enable a vertical landing.

    Other hydrolox engine options may eventually be developed for an evolved and reusable SLS core.

    And of course reusable boosters for an evolved SLS, be they solid rocket boosters or liquid propellant rocket engine powered boosters, should eventually be doable.

    One may also wonder if Japan’s upcoming H-3 Launcher with its first stage option of having two or three expander bleed cycle LE-9 rocket engines could also have the potential of being reusable.

    Yep, the various risks, economic advantages, performance costs, and other issues of flying such reusable rockets will hopefully continue to be carefully investigated everywhere.

    However, there eventually may be a fundamental problem or limit with the noise generated by any future super large rocket vehicles with perhaps over 11 million pounds of lift-off thrust when being launched from current or future Kennedy Space Center launchpads.

    The windows of businesses and homes in Titusville and the surrounding areas may experience excessive vibration and structural failure during such super large rocket launches and their possible launch failures. I vaguely remember reading something about this potential noise/blast launcher limit issue quite a few years ago.

    • Conway Costigan

      Landing back a stage is a fun trick for bored billionaires to pull off with their hobby rockets but for space exploration Beyond Earth Orbit it has very little practical application. Physics and materials science has not changed since the 60’s when all the studies on the many different possible solutions were done. The numbers have not changed. The rocket equation means to achieve escape velocity from Earth’s deep gravity well with chemical propellants staging- and very large stages for any worthwhile payload- is required. There is no cheap.

      Making a stage “reusable” with the fuel to bring it back down, the necessary structural strength to withstand repeated launches, and the landing gear and other necessary equipment, make such a science fiction wonder….impractical. It is a gimmick- a P.R. device.

      The SRB or pressure-fed booster, recovered at sea like the shuttle boosters, are the only practical concepts for reusability and this is not going to change.

  • James

    While it is true that lots of useful research was done ‘back in the day’ of large NASA budgets, nonetheless there are new developments in material science that have changed the materials being used to build airplanes and that have decreased weight while simultaneously increasing efficiency and usability. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner and CubCrafters CC11-160 Carbon Cub SS are both good examples of this general trend.

    Science and technology evolve on many interacting fronts. A large amount of research money may help, but it isn’t the only driver of new technology.

    The satellite telecommunications industry with over 195 billion dollars in business per year is also a powerful motivator of new space related research, including reusable first stages for launchers headed uphill to cislunar space.

    Reductions in the weight of rocket propellant tanks and a large decrease in the amount of human touch labor needed to ‘turn around’ and relaunch the reusable first stage may make such a ‘reusable evolution’ economically useful for satellite launchers.

    An evolved SLS with super lightweight graphene propellant tanks and an easy to restart and throttle expander bleed cycle LE-9 hydrolox rocket engine that is centrally located between four high efficiency RS-25 rocket engines could offer a useful method of doing a vertical landing of the valuable SLS core.

    Note that an equivalent weight of graphene is about 150 times stronger than steel. Graphene is already being used in tennis rackets.

    Using graphene for lightweight propellant tanks and the landing structure of an evolved New Shepard launch vehicle, and other launchers, may also eventually occur.

    Graphene may also spark a renewed interest in large pressure fed rocket engines.

    Increasing simplicity and minimizing the amount of human touch labor while also reducing launch risks also seems doable with the battery-powered propellant pumps on the new Rutherford kerolox rocket engine that is used on Rocket Lab’s Electron launcher. Note that battery energy storage density keeps on increasing.

    The evolution of reusable rockets will most likely continue to occur because of the evolution and convergence of various types of new space related technology.

    • Conway Costigan

      “-there are new developments in material science that have changed the materials being used to build airplanes and that have decreased weight while simultaneously increasing efficiency and usability.”

      Even with 150 times lighter wishalloy the rocket equation does not go away James. The laws of physics do not change. Good luck with all your “new space related technology.”

  • Jeff Wright

    I was hoping for Bezos to make something like SERV but with Dream Chaser on top