Amazon and Reusable Rocket Launch / Landing

I wonder if they will be delivering packages to the lunar colony with one of these ;-)

More in the article here:

How Jeff Bezos Just Scored a Big Win Over Elon Musk

by Robert Hackett @rhhackett NOVEMBER 24, 2015, 10:56 AM EST

Blue Origin, the billionaire’s dark-horse rocket company, successfully launched and landed its reusable rocket on Monday.

The company’s New Shepard space vehicle (named in honor of the first American in space, Alan Shepard) soared to a height of 62 miles, separated into its component parts (a BE-3 rocket and crew capsule), and then touched down amid the desert landscape of its secretive facility in Van Horn, Texas.

It looks like there is still a bit of wobble on landing to control, but that will improve over time. Also they might want to land somewhere without so much abrasive debris to kick up… but it makes for a fun video…

Per the Wiki it is intended for sub-orbital only joy rides.

The Blue Origin New Shepard reusable launch system is a vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing (VTVL), suborbital manned rocket that is being developed by Blue Origin, a company owned by founder and businessman Jeff Bezos, as a commercial system for suborbital space tourism. The New Shepard makes reference to the first United States astronaut in space, Alan Shepard.
The New Shepard propulsion module is powered using a Blue Origin BE-3 bipropellant rocket engine burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, although some early development work was done by Blue Origin on engines operating with other propellants: the BE-1 engine using monopropellant hydrogen peroxide; and the BE-2 engine using high-test peroxide oxidizer and RP-1 kerosene fuel.[

Liquid H / LOX propellant. Kind of old school, but hey, it works.

The article paints this as aimed at Elon Musk. I don’t think so. He’s making heavy launch to orbit gear. It’s Virgin Galactic that has to worry. They are both aiming at the “Space Tourist” pop ‘n drop suborbital joy riders.

Given a few more years, the USA just might get back to being a space faring people again… Given recent events with Russia, and that the Atlas engine is made in Ukraine / Russia, well, it’s getting harder to justify flying Russian Engines with our paint on the skins and hitching rides to space on Russian launch vehicles.

The RD-180 (РД-180, Ракетный Двигатель-180, Rocket Engine-180) is a rocket engine designed and built in Russia. It features a dual-combustion chamber, dual-nozzle design and is fueled by a kerosene/LOX mixture. Currently RD-180 engines are used for the first stage of the US Atlas V launch vehicle.

The RD-180 is derived from the RD-170/RD-171 line of rocket engines, which were used in the Soviet Energia launch vehicle, and are still in use in the Ukrainian/Russian Zenit launch vehicles.
2014 availability concerns

Doubts about the reliability of the supply chain for the RD-180 arose following the Ukraine crisis in March 2014. For over thirteen years since the engine was first used in the Atlas III launch vehicle in 2000, there was never any serious jeopardy to the engine supply, despite an uneven record of US-Russian relations since the Cold War. But worsening relations between the West and Russia after March have led to several blockages, including a short-lived judicial injunction from the US courts that were unclear on the scope of the US sanctions on importing the Russian engine.

On May 13, 2014, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin announced that “Russia will ban the United States from using Russian-made rocket engines for military launches”—a frequent payload of the ULA Atlas V launch vehicle which powers its first stage with a single RD-180 engine that is expended after each flight. In response, the US Air Force has asked the Aerospace Corporation to begin evaluating alternatives for powering the Atlas 5 booster stage with non-RD-180 engines. Early estimates are that it would require five or more years to replace the RD-180 on the Atlas V.

Even if the Russian government does not cut off the supply to ULA of imported RD-180 engines, the US Congress, with emerging support from the Air Force, has come around to a view that it would not be advantageous to the US government to start up a US production line to produce the RD-180. However, the US Congress is advocating for the initiation of a new US hydrocarbon rocket engine program, to field a new engine by 2022.

Yup, sounds about right for Government Work. Lots of talk about doing something, but no action, and then wrong action, and then more no action. You’d think we could make a 15 year old design Russian engine, especially given that we have the rights and plans… But no…

Oh Well. Looks like they are hoping that Bezos will bail them out with his engine development work. A LOX / Liquid Methane job.

US production of the RD-180

United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced in February 2015 that they are considering undertaking US production of the Russian RD-180 engine at the Decatur, Alabama rocket stage manufacturing facility. The US-manufactured engines would be used only for government civil (NASA) or commercial launches, and would not be used for US military launches. This potential project is a backup plan to the new engine development work that ULA is undertaking with Blue Origin on the BE-4.

Replacement for the RD-180 engine on US Atlas launch vehicle

As a result of the geopolitical and US political considerations as 2014 progressed, United Launch Alliance initiated an effort to consider the possible replacement of the Russian-supplied RD-180 engine used on the first stage booster of the ULA Atlas V. Formal study contracts were issued in June 2014 to a number of US rocket engine suppliers.

In September 2014, ULA announced that it has entered into a partnership with Blue Origin to develop the BE-4 LOX/methane engine to replace the RD-180 on a new first stage booster that would succeed the Atlas V. At the time, the engine was already in its third year of development by Blue Origin, and ULA expects the new stage and engine to start flying no earlier than 2019. Two of the 2,400-kilonewton (550,000 lbf)-thrust BE-4 engines will be used on the new launch vehicle booster.

Guess all that fracking might just get us back into space on our own rocket motors…

Any guesses as to when you can add “Space Flight” to your “Gift Registry listing” on Amazon? ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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18 Responses to Amazon and Reusable Rocket Launch / Landing

  1. Ralph B says:

    We (the US) should be back as a spacefaring nation by 2017. NASA has contracted with SpaceX and Boeing to fly to the ISS by then. LOX and LH2 is actually the most efficient propellant for chemical rockets, just difficult to handle that is why liquid methane is the new rage, more efficient than kerosene yet easier to handle than LH2. I wish NERVA or Orion would be looked at…then we could really zip around the solar system.

  2. p.g.sharrow says:

    Landing a rocket vehicle on it’s tail, under power from 62miles up, is quite an accomplishment. Doing it dependably would be awesome. I don’t think I would want to ride one of those things and I have ridden almost anything! The fine throttle control needed is very hard to attain with engines and fuel designed for maximum lift abilities. Hauling fuel up to power safe landings really cuts into your lift payload. A tip of the hat to these guys accomplishment…pg

  3. A C Osborn says:

    It is only a short hop from “Joy Rides” to ISS supply when costs are so low and the technology is proven.
    PG S, They could probably make the landing safer with the addition of slow descent parachutes ala Space Capsules.

    Isn’t it really SAD to see this being done by private enterprise while NASA twiddles it’s thumbs playing at AGW Champions for the President?
    What a comedown.

  4. I am not sure that Virgin has to worry. I think there is plenty of business for more than one company, probably more than two, in the space tourism arena. It is so rewarding to see private companies succeed with what we were taught could only be done by governments. Just think of the efficiencies of businesses like Amazon (and others) to permeate space companies. Prices should go to 10% or less of the big government programs. Russia and NASA are not known for tight, slick control.

  5. p.g.sharrow says:

    @A C Osborn; I am afraid the difficulty of matching the speed of the ISS and then landing is a Great Deal more energy intensive effort the this “A” ticket joy ride to the edge of space. About 10 times more difficult, IIRC…pg

  6. Ralph B says:

    AC…on the contrary, I am very happy to see this done by private enterprise. Hopefully these guys will get the gov’t out of the rocket business and maybe prices will come down enough where a jaunt into space is affordable to your average Joe.

  7. Jason Calley says:

    One nice thing to remember is that even though a suborbital system can’t get you to orbit, you can still get to orbit with just a little help. See “Earth launch assist bolo” about half way down page —

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    IIRC, the delta V was about Mach 3 to suborbital, but about Mach 15 to LEO. So it’s about 5 x on the delta V needed. (And, IIRC, that dominates air drag and gravity well by a lot…)

    Sub-orbital “hop and pop” is way easy compared to LEO and a hardly anything at all compared with heavy lift to sync orbit… Each one an order of magnitude type effort over the other. Then it’s “a whole ‘nother thing” to get to the Moon and a complete game change to go to the next planet over…

    You can get to ‘almost space’ with just a very fancy jet airplane:

    Zoom climbs have been used to test new aircraft designs and conduct research in different flight regimes. During the proving phase of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, on December 6, 1959, an early version of the aircraft (the XF4H-1) performed a zoom climb to a world record 98,557 feet (30,040 m) as part of Operation `Top Flight’. The previous record of 94,658 feet (28,852 m) was set by a Soviet Sukhoi T-43-1 prototype. Commander Lawrence E. Flint Jr. accelerated his aircraft to Mach 2.5 at 47,000 feet (14,330 m) and climbed to 90,000 feet (27,430 m) at a 45-degree angle. He then shut down the engines and glided to the peak altitude. As the aircraft fell through 70,000 feet (21,300 m), Flint restarted the engines and resumed normal flight.

    An NF-104A Starfighter fitted with an additional rocket engine was also regularly used in zoom climb research for future spaceflight. On May 7, 1958, the aircraft reached an altitude of 91,249 feet (27.81 km) in a zoom climb at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., setting a new altitude record. The Mach 2 mission took the airplane so high that the standard F-104’s jet engines routinely exceeded their temperature limits and had to be shut down. Sometimes the engine simply flamed out for lack of air. Then the pilot steered the aircraft like a returning spaceship to a lower altitude, where he would restart the engine.

    It was on one such “zoom climb” flight that test pilot Chuck Yeager was nearly killed flying a heavily modified F-104 on December 10, 1963.

    On 25 July 1973, A. Fedotov reached 35,230m (115,600 feet) with 1,000 kg payload, and 36,240 m (118,900 feet) with no load (an absolute world record). In the thin air, the engines flamed out and the aircraft coasted in a ballistic trajectory by inertia alone. At the apex the speed had dropped to 75 km/h.

    Without engine power, the cockpit would depressurize on these missions. Consequently, for protection against the rarified atmosphere, the pilot wore a full-body pressure suit. Properly outfitted with an airtight helmet and suit the pilot received breathing oxygen without ill effects.

    That’s about 20 miles up, above most of the air, and while not at the 50 miles we call ‘space’, it is more like space than air.

    IFF we had wanted, we would have “single stage to orbit” planes right now. Heck, in the late 1950s into the 1960s we had a “flight to space” ability with return and landing:

    The North American X-15 was a hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft operated by the United States Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as part of the X-plane series of experimental aircraft. The X-15 set speed and altitude records in the 1960s, reaching the edge of outer space and returning with valuable data used in aircraft and spacecraft design. As of September 2015, the X-15 holds the official world record for the highest speed ever reached by a manned, powered aircraft. Its maximum speed was 4,520 miles per hour (7,274 km/h), or Mach 6.72.

    During the X-15 program, 13 flights by eight pilots met the Air Force spaceflight criterion by exceeding the altitude of 50 miles (80 km), thus qualifying the pilots for astronaut status. The Air Force pilots qualified for astronaut wings immediately, while the civilian pilots were awarded NASA astronaut wings in 2005, 35 years after the last X-15 flight. The sole Navy pilot in the X-15 program never took the aircraft above the requisite 50 mile altitude.

    Of the 199 X-15 missions, two flights (by the same pilot) qualified as space flights per the international (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) definition of a spaceflight by exceeding 100 kilometers (62.1 mi) in altitude.

    So we’ve advanced exactly nill in “space aviation” in 55 years…

    I’m very happy we have advanced our rocketry a little bit, all the way from H2 / LOX to H2 / LOX and from Kerosene / LOX to Kerosene / LOX and from “hop and pop” by Alan Shepard to about 116 miles to this flight to about 62 miles… but I think we could have done a LOT better…

    Heck, given a couple of more decades, we might even be able to make a winged aircraft able to reach 100 KM like the old X-15 did, and then land back on a runway… How about “Let’s reach 1959 by 2029!” as a slogan?… Or maybe that’s too fast… /sarc;

    Yes, I’m just a tiny bit “bitter” about an entire lifetime waiting to get back to the point we were at when I first watched those flights and dreamed of what was to come, that never came.

    We have an existence proof of hypersonic airframes, from the X-15 to the Space Shuttle. We have loads of existence proofs for all sorts of engines. We just have not bothered to put them together and sell tickets…

    On a positive note, though, at least now some folks who know how to Dream and have the money to do it are “in the race”. This time for sure…

  9. p.g.sharrow says:

    I don’t want to wet on your parade. BUT by 1959 I realized that Roman Candle Rocketry could never result in real space flight for humans. Too dangerous, too expensive, too slow. There is no way to carry enough reaction material. Even atomic reactor to superheat hydrogen rocket is not a real solution. Atomic bomb based propulsion is not going to do it.
    The only thing that will really work is a device that harnesses the fundamental forces of the universe, Electro-Magnatic Force. Only this can allow the necessary manipulation of Mass/Inertia, gravity and acceleration that are needed for true space travel.
    Just as my studies in the late 1950s resulted in the above determination, my studies over the next 30 years have lead me to believe that EMF manipulations could result in a Truspace Drive as well as the internal gravity effects needed to make humans a real space faring race…pg

  10. E.M.Smith says:


    Um, that’s not making my parade ‘wet’… I’m mostly bitching about the LACK of progress and how we’ve gone retrograde compared to where we were 1/2 century ago… And saying “well, I’m glad we are almost back to where we were”…

    I’d still love to see an electro-gravitic drive, or an anti-gravity space elevator. But when we can’t even make a Mach 10 “roman candle” based device having demonstrated all the technology already… it doesn’t give me much hope for a Great Big Leap from the present crop of corporate grant suckers… er, “aerospace industry”…

  11. p.g.sharrow says:

    IIRC back in the 1970s the Soviets were so afraid of the possible American private space efforts they got the UN to pass a resolution that only Government organizations could carry out or sponsor activities in space. NO free enterprise colonization allowed…pg

  12. Larry Ledwick says:

    That is so friggen cool!
    Not a trivial problem. I remember back in engineering school (circa 1968) one of our physics professors used that exact problem to illustrate the complexity of seemingly simple tasks. He started off balancing a stick on his finger tip, and then related that to the problem of keeping a rocket in stable flight by having a control system that kept the thrust vector of the engine in line with the center of mass and with just enough deviation to keep the vector of motion on the intended flight path. He used it as an example of a system that very rapidly became unstable if perturbed too far from the ideal, and at some point you did not have enough control authority to save it if it got too far off axis.

  13. omanuel says:

    As we celebrate Thanksgiving, please contemplate ways to inform world leaders at the Paris Climate Conference that we the people created governments to secure our rights to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and we do not want to be manipulated or led by fear-mongering leaders that exploit scientific uncertainties to create chronic stress in society.

    Please post insights and suggestions on ResearchGate:

  14. John F. Hultquist says:

    I remember the beeping ball that floated across the sky in October, 1957.
    When I started college we used slide rules but the administration had a computer, likely an IBM 1401. We never saw it. Friden electro-mechanical calculators were much used still but the IBM 1620 — punch card input and output — was available too. Some of us were allowed to use FORTRAN II as our foreign language.
    And my brother became a rocket scientist about that time. We were not allowed to know what he did.
    How things have changed.

    To Jeff Bezos and his team: Congratulations.

  15. A C Osborn says:

    I have no problem with private enterprise going in to space and in fact I think it is a great idea.
    However NASA had and still has a great deal of very useful information about launching, controlling and retrieving Space Craft. They also had some really great Engineers as well.
    All of which has gone to waste since the Moon program ended, I remember watching one of the femail NASA heads of programmes talking on TV about how the Space Race was the worst thing to ever happen to Mankind’s exploration of Space, because when USA won it basically everything stopped, intereset & investment waned and here we are. The US no longer have lift capability and the world now relies on Russia, China, India and the EU to launch Satellites.

  16. Jason Calley says:

    I no longer have the numbers in front of me, but a couple decades ago I saw a very nice analysis of a plan to use strap-on off-the-shelf jet engines as a first stage for a launch vehicle. We are all familiar with the use of strap-on solid fuel boosters, but the jet engines have some advantages. They are a mature technology, they are built in such large quantities that the thrust to dollar ratio is quite high, and best of all, they suck their oxidizer out of the air. The plan was to have six jet engines strapped to the first stage. They would be run at around 110% of rated capacity (very doable for a few minutes flight) and would power the craft up to somewhere around 60,000 feet and mach mumble mumble, at which point they would separate and parachute down.

    While I applaud the Blue Origin crew, I would also like to turn the history book open to the old Delta Clipper which successfully pioneered tail-first landings twenty years ago.

    Here is my suggestion. A true single-stage-to-orbit craft is only barely (or maybe not at all) possible with current technology. So how about a stage and a half to orbit? Combine a Delta Clipper approach with strap-on jets engines for initial orbit. That should save enough rocket fuel to make a landing possible, and as a bonus (what a bonus!) you get the Moon as well. Launch two or three Delta Clipper style ships to orbit. Refuel one ship from the others. You should then have enough deltaV to go to and land on the Moon — and do it proper tail-down, rockets blasting, old school style.

  17. omanuel says:

    John Hultquist,

    I also remember the terror of Oct 1957 when “Sputnik” was overhead and the USA had no space program.

    Today – Nov 27, 2015 – my ResearchGate account is frozen and I am unable to get an explanation from ResearchGate.

    Regardless what happens now, the eventual outcome will again confirm the oldest scriptures, TRUTH IS VICTORIOUS, NEVER UNTRUTH!”

    Although my ResearchGate account is locked, the following information is still available:

    The Paris Climate Conference is only the last scene of an intriguing international mystery that began during a news black-out of events at Konan, Korea that changed the course of world history and the foundations of nuclear and solar physics. See: “Stalin’s science:

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