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Space Transportation Technology

Blue Origin Successfully Test Fires Game-Changing BE-4 Rocket Engine (geekwire.com) 95

Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space venture has successfully test-fired its BE-4 rocket engine, marking a key step in the development of its own New Glenn rocket as well as United Launch Alliance's next-generation rocket. GeekWire reports: ULA has been waiting for months to get good news about the BE-4 tests in West Texas. The company wanted to see a successful full-scale test before going ahead with plans to use the BE-4 engine on its Vulcan rocket, which is due to have its first flight in 2019. A Blue Origin competitor, Aerojet Rocketdyne, has been waiting in the wings with its AR1 engine, which ULA saw as a "Plan B" for the Vulcan in case the BE-4 faltered. Wednesday's initial hot-firing didn't reach full power or full duration, but the test's success nevertheless reduces the likelihood that ULA would turn to the AR1. The BE-4 engine, which uses liquefied natural gas as fuel, is built at Blue Origin's production facility in Kent, Wash., and shipped down to Texas for testing. Assuming that it's accepted for ULA's use, engine production will eventually shift to a factory in Huntsville, Ala. Engines for the orbital-class New Glenn rocket will go to Blue Origin's rocket factory in Florida, which is due to be completed by the end of this year.
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Blue Origin Successfully Test Fires Game-Changing BE-4 Rocket Engine

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  • Game changing? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Friday October 20, 2017 @05:29AM (#55402195) Journal

    I read the linked article and maybe I'm old (Ok I am old) but I couldn't see how this was "Game changing".

    Landing 11 story boosters and re-launching them? Yes

    Making a new liquid fueled rocket engine (that wasn't even using LH2 which I hear is harder). Not so sure

    I realize that of all the parts of a rocket, the engine is the hardest. Like an air-force general said "A new plane doesn't make a new engine possible, a new engine makes a new plane possible" you get the idea. Still, considering the number and variety of liquid fueled engines out there (from the Russian RS-180 to NASA's RS-25 to Space-X's Merlin and even to Aerojet's AR1 which they refer to in the article), I'm not sure how this qualifies as game changing. An improvement? Maybe but I didn't see where in my (brief) reading of the article. And does even a less than order of magnitude improvement merit being a game changer?

    Is the term being overused here or am I missing something?

    • Re:Game changing? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20, 2017 @05:50AM (#55402253)

      A better article explains it betterer:

      "SpaceX has also invested significant amounts of its own funds into its new Raptor engine, which has a sea-level thrust of 380,000 pounds. But this engine has yet to undergo full-scale testing.
      Meanwhile, Blue Origin's BE-4 engine is more powerful, at 550,000 pounds of thrust—it is in fact the most powerful US rocket engine developed since Rocketdyne built the RS-68 engine two decades ago."

      https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/10/blue-origin-has-successfully-tested-its-powerful-be-4-rocket-engine/

      • Re: Game changing? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by D.McG. ( 3986101 ) on Friday October 20, 2017 @06:10AM (#55402297)
        Disingenuous. The raptor has a higher efficiency by using full flow staged combustion. The current lower output is for two reasons. The first is for optimizing the thrust to weight ratio. Higher thrust engines disproportionately weigh more. The second is multi engine out support. If you have one big engine and it goes down, you crash. If instead you have 3 smaller engines in the same space and 1 goes down, the mission continues on the remaining 2. When landing becomes imperative with lives at stake, I'll take multiple engines over bragging rights.
        • They also had to down-scale the "full-size" engine along with the recent downscaling of the upper stage from 150 to 80 metric tonnes. If the dry mass of the upper stage is 80 metric tonnes, the formerly planned 3 MN version would make landings with redundancy problematic.
        • Disingenuous. The raptor has a higher efficiency by using full flow staged combustion. The current lower output is for two reasons. The first is for optimizing the thrust to weight ratio. Higher thrust engines disproportionately weigh more. The second is multi engine out support. If you have one big engine and it goes down, you crash. If instead you have 3 smaller engines in the same space and 1 goes down, the mission continues on the remaining 2. When landing becomes imperative with lives at stake, I'll take multiple engines over bragging rights.

          Why are you getting defensive? AC said nothing about which engine is a better design, only that the BE-4 is bigger and more powerful.

          And it is.

      • "SpaceX has also invested significant amounts of its own funds into its new Raptor engine, which has a sea-level thrust of 380,000 pounds. But this engine has yet to undergo full-scale testing.

        What full-scale testing? This full-scale testing? [youtu.be] That's already happening. If I understand the situation correctly, SpaceX has accumulated 1200 seconds of full-scale tests by now, whereas Blue Origin just now had its first several-second burn.

    • by Megol ( 3135005 )

      Liquid hydrogen is harder, sure. As in near impossible. It have a low energy density, it have to be stored at low temperatures ( the fuel tank would be _big_ which mean heavy and the extreme insulation needed will just add to the weight.

      The thing here isn't that someone have switched to another liquid fuel - it is that they have succeeded in using LNG as the liquid fuel. If cheap* natural gas can do the work of a relatively expensive** RP1 fuel (as used by SpaceX and most other liquid fueled rockets) well t

      • Re:Game changing? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Friday October 20, 2017 @06:42AM (#55402447)
        The three actual benefits of methane fuel at the moment for SpaceX are 1) the enabling of the FFSC cycle which is impossible with RP-1, 2) improved prevention of fouling up the internal fuel lines in the engine necessitating extra maintenance, and later, 3) easy synthesizability on Mars. Lower price gets only important in the long run, perhaps around the time when 3) comes into play as well. For now, it's still two orders of magnitude cheaper than the flight hardware. So it only gets reasonably important when you get to the point of having >50 flights per vehicle lifetime or so.
      • The cost of fuel is a small part of the cost of an orbital rocket launch.

        LH2 burns clean and gives the best specific impulse but it's low density leads to high tankage mass and it's low boiling point makes it impractical to manage on long missons. RP1 is easy to handle but it's high carbon content leads to low specific impulse and leads to coking problems.

        Methane is essentially a middle ground between the two. Better specific impulse and less coking than kerosene, higher storage temperature and density than

    • I think the game changed is the competition between various engine companies.
    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      that wasn't even using LH2 which I hear is harder

      You say that like it's a good thing. Methane is easier to handle and makes refurbishing the engine for reuse simpler, cutting costs all around.

      I think the game-changing aspect is supposed to be a combination of low manufacture cost, low operation cost, high thrust, and very high reusabiity -- 25 missions. The idea is to be pretty good on every metric, not necessarily the best (e.g. highest thrust) in every metric. That's engineering for you: it involves ma

    • Well, it certainly changes the game for Blue Origin at least... this is their ticket to moving from the "insane-class model rocketry club" into the orbital rocketry business.

      As I understand it (may be wrong, haven't been following them closely) this will be their first attempt at a first-stage engine - their previous one being strictly a suborbital or possibly second-stage engine. If it works, and if they're able to scale their landing system to an orbital rocket (I'm smelling a lot of "if" coming off of t

    • I read the linked article and maybe I'm old (Ok I am old) but I couldn't see how this was "Game changing".

      Game changing in that it means that the ULA may actually still be in the game. With the military using SpaceX finally, there is no real reason to use ULA rockets except for man launches or congress say so. SpaceX is workign on their man rating and economics will eventually win congress over. Meanwhile, the ULA are a generation behind in rocket design and trying desperately to catch up with their own reusable first stage rocket. Both Blue Origin and ULA will essentially be putting their futures behind the BE

  • So it's like upgrading from Hammers to Kickbacks? Got it.

  • The BE-4 engine, which uses liquefied natural gas as fuel

    Yeah! Fuck my carbon footprint, I'm going to the MOON!

    • by physburn ( 1095481 ) on Friday October 20, 2017 @06:18AM (#55402333) Homepage Journal
      Methane has almost double the hydrogen of Kerosene, so this is in fact a great improvement in weight and CO2 production, on kerosene based rockets. Liquid Hydrogen is hard as a big volume, and needs cryogenics so methance is a good compramise
    • Methane ought to have lesser CO2 emissions than RP-1. Anyway, the impact of spaceflight fuel is minuscule even compared to aviation, and even more so when comparing it to the impact of the global car population. There's just not nearly that many rockets flying around.
      • Indeed. In fact, methane produces less CO2 per joule than any other hydrocarbon fuel, since all four energy-rich carbon bonds are connected to hydrogens, rather than having carbon-carbon bonds "wasting" energy storage potential. The fact that hydrogen is practically massless compared to most other elements also means methane is pretty much the most energy-dense hydrocarbon fuel in terms of MJ/kg - about 20% denser than gasoline, and twice as dense as ethanol or potato chips. Plus it's not terribly diffic

  • by oobayly ( 1056050 ) on Friday October 20, 2017 @06:13AM (#55402313)

    If you want to abbreviate surely use WA, TX, AL, or write the actual name. It's just bizarre reading Wash, Ala, etc. Capitals were used so they might as well have finished off the word.

    • Those two-letter abbreviations were created by the Post Office to help them sort mail, and they don't even need them any more because everything is done by ZIP code. Wash, Ala, are fine, they're more human-readable. Quick, what's the difference between ME and MS? Or CT and CO? Yeah, exactly.
    • You must be young. Before the silly and misleading two-letter abbreviations came out states had longer abreviations that were more human-friendly and sensible. A computer can of course deal with these too, no need for two letter:

      http://www.searchforancestors.... [searchforancestors.com]

      • by crtreece ( 59298 )

        You must be young.

        You're defining young as "learned abbreviations before 1959"? Let us know when they update it to include Alaska and Hawaii. And when was the last time you were in I. Terr.?

        • nope; those abbreviations were still in common use in 1970s and in many places until early 1980s. of course, you wouldn't know that but since I was there I do.

  • by Kogun ( 170504 ) on Friday October 20, 2017 @07:52AM (#55402781)
    it will allow Bezos to put Amazon women on the moon.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      it will allow Bezos to put Amazon women on the moon.

      Mars Needs Women

  • They should keep working on the AR series too. When we do finally get to the real "space age", having three different manufactures of rocket engines will be a good thing. It's great that the US is finally getting back into the rocket engine game. The RD's from Russia are great, reliable engines; but we really need to have domestic production again.
  • Should we really support anything, especially rocket technology research, being done by a guy who is obviously Lex Luthor?

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