Blue Origin publishes New Glenn overview as pad and landing ship continue development

by Chris Bergin

Blue Origin has provided additional details relating to its New Glenn rocket this week via the release of its Payload User Guide that is designed to aid customers interested in launching their payloads on their launch vehicle with requirements and capabilities. Meanwhile, work is continuing on the company’s Cape Canaveral launch site and the refit of its booster landing ship.

Blue Origin is quietly preparing to head into the orbital launch market with its New Glenn rocket, named after the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn.

With its first rocket, New Shepard, closing in on the end of its test series, Blue’s initial focus has been towards the launch of paying customers – and onboard payloads – via its suborbital system.

Another test flight of the New Shepard from its West Texas test site home is expected early in 2019, to be followed by the first crew launches later that year.

While the path to paying space tourists is continuing, the expansive facilities on the East Coast point to Blue Origin’s major aspirations.

With the company’s huge rocket factory already constructed at Exploration Park on Merritt Island, work is taking place on the launch site facility located at Cape Canaveral’s LC-36.

Most of the work has been taking place away from the interested gaze of rocket fans, with ground preparations taking up the bulk of the initial construction phase. This included the piling of 200+ foot poles into the ground to support the pad, support and integration buildings – and the lightning protection system.

Most of this work has taken place behind blue covers, with only the heavy equipment and cranes peeking over the perimeter.

However, a major sign of pad build up was spotted by Kennedy Space Center workers who noticed huge 100,000-gallon Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) tanks – which will store the methane used on the New Glenn booster – being transported by rail to LC-36.

LNG tanks heading to LC-36 – via L2

They were noted as arriving last week via TTX railcars and shipping services. Although ULA later tweeted they had received two LNG tanks. It’s not confirmed if both companies – who work closely together – took a shipment at the same time.

Regardless, more tanks are set to arrive, with liquid methane (LNG), LOX, and LH2 tanks required to support not only fueling and launch operations of New Glenn from LC-36, but also BE-4 engine test firings at neighboring LC-11 – thus allowing the propellant/oxidizer storage tanks to serve a dual purpose.

LC-11 is LC-36’s neighboring pad to the north, and Blue Origin announced earlier this year that pad 11 will be the site of BE-4 engine acceptance and test firings at the Cape. As such, LC-11 will sport a new engine test stand.

BE-4 will not only launch New Glenn but it has already been confirmed as the engine of choice for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket – providing Blue Origin with another revenue stream from its highly capable engine. BE-4 has already conducted numerous successful test firings at the West Texas test facility.

With a large amount of synergy with SpaceX’s reusability approach, Blue will be recovering New Glenn boosters for reuse.

New Glenn booster returns will utilize its own landing ship which has since arrived in the States for a refit into Blue Origin’s Floating Landing Platform.

Blue Origin’s booster landing ship after arriving in Florida – Joshua Pepper (@joshuapepper) for NSF

The Stena Freighter is currently berthed in Pensacola, Florida.

It has been noted that the ship will be a hydrodynamically-stabilized ship, which will help it during recovery attempts in rough seas.

The newly released Payload User Guide noted the recovery profile for the New Glenn booster after launch.

“For a nominal 250 km perigee altitude GTO mission, the first stage booster initiates an engine shutdown sequence at a mission elapsed time (MET) of 199 seconds,” Blue Origin’s Guide noted.

“The command induces the BE-4 main engine cut-off (MECO), and thrust tails off until second stage separation occurs at MET 202 seconds. The first stage then reorients for atmospheric reentry, landing, and recovery.”

New Glenn recovery profile – via Blue Origin

One recovered at sea, the booster will be transported back to Port Canaveral ahead of returning to its Cape facility for refurbishment and preparations for its next launch.

Numerous other items of interest are mentioned on the Guide, with launch vehicle specific elements such as a large common bulkhead being employed on the second stage and common tooling on the second stage and that is also aluminum orthogrid material in its construction. The rocket will use autogenous pressurization for both stages.

The large 7 meter fairing has the ability to launch very large payloads such as space telescopes, but also dual payloads – not unlike Ariane 5 regularly conducts.

The Guide refines some performance numbers, with 1060 kN (240,000 lb) total thrust cited for the second stage, which is slightly down from the 125,000 lb per BE-3U – the second stage engine- performance previously stated by Blue Origin’s online resources.

Blue Origin’s New Glenn – via Blue Origin

While GTO missions will result in 199 seconds of burn time on the booster, the total duration of two second stage burns is shown as 717 seconds for such missions, with 600 seconds of continuous burn time on the second stage for LEO missions.

The option for a third stage remains open as a future addition.

Blue Origin is targetting up to 12 launches per year, with launch surges of eight in four months and a maximum of three in one month.

The vehicle is set to conduct her maiden launch in 2021.

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