Category Archives: Private Space Inc.

The Billionaires Working To Make A Fortune In The Final Frontier

Space Is Booming. America's Next Heavy-Lift Rocket Should Reflect That

As the U.S. government leaves the RD-180 rocket engine behind, it should position itself to support and reap the benefits of the growth in orbital markets.

The Russian RD-180 rocket engine has been an integral part of the U.S. military’s space launch capabilities since the 1990s. The RD-180 was chosen for the Atlas V because it was an advanced rocket engine with unmatched technical capabilities. The decision to use the RD-180 was influenced by many other non-technical factors as well, such as the United States’ geopolitical goal of easing the former Soviet Union’s transition from communism and U.S. industry’s desire to remain competitive in the global launch market. And despite the EELV program’s cost overruns and program restructurings, the RD-180 has helped the U.S. military achieve its goal of mission assurance for the launch of national security payloads.

From the beginning, the U.S. government and its industry partners planned to eventually move production of the RD-180 to the United States. However, after costs began to rise on the EELV program, this goal was repeatedly delayed. In 2007, the government decided to forgo the goal of producing the RD-180 domestically, and instead chose to stockpile enough engines to mitigate the risk of a supply disruption. This approach held until the 2014 Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea. With the imposition of U.S. sanctions against Russia, and Russian threats to retaliate by possibly withholding sales of the RD-180, policymakers made breaking the reliance on Russian engines a top priority.

Under current law, DoD must end its dependence on the RD-180 by 2022. It also remains the policy of the United States to maintain two independent launch vehicle families that can launch all national-security space payloads. Assuming that the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy (once certified) will be one of the two launch vehicle families, DoD must still have an alternate launch vehicle family that does not use the RD-180.

The Aerojet Rocketdyne AR1 engine currently under development is the closest to being a drop-in replacement for the RD-180. However, because it is heavier, has a higher thrust, and has a lower specific impulse (fuel efficiency), the AR1 would require modifications to the existing Atlas V launch vehicle that would lower the vehicle’s overall performance. The same AR1 engine could also be used on the new Vulcan launch vehicle, which would achieve higher performance than the current Atlas V. The Vulcan could also be powered by Blue Origin’s new BE-4 engine, which is further along in development than the AR1 and largely self-funded by Blue Origin. All three of these options have some level of technical risk because they are new development programs, and each launch option would take several years before it is certified to launch national security payloads.

Related: It’s Time to Declare Our Independence from Russian Rockets

Related: If Russia is Selling, the Pentagon Should Keep Buying — Rocket Engines, That Is

Related: Wishing for a US-Made Heavy Lift Rocket Won’t Make It So

Alternatively, the existing Delta IV and Ariane 5 families of launch vehicles could be used to launch payloads currently serviced by the Atlas V. Both would involve less technical risk and would be available immediately because they are already in production and have well- established safety records. However, the Delta IV family of vehicles is much more expensive than the Atlas V and Falcon 9, which means it is not a viable competitor in the long-term. And because the Ariane 5 is a European-made launch vehicle, its use would create a host of security and political challenges. Policymakers must weigh each of these options and consider a range of factors, such as schedule, cost, technical risks, and the long-term competitiveness of the U.S. space launch industrial base.

Simultaneously, the Defense Department will need to reconsider its acquisition strategy for the next phase of the EELV program. As public-private partnerships continue to evolve, DoD should consider the critical ingredients necessary to make its acquisition strategy successful, including: 1) the nature of the acquisition; 2) the health of the commercial space launch market; 3) the range and scope for purchasing launch services and how integrated or federated this needs to be; 4) the mechanism for purchasing launch; and 5) the management of risk in space launch acquisition.

With these ingredients in mind, there are several different ways to have successful, but varying, amounts of competition in the national security space launch market. Block buys allow for limited competition that assures some access to space with one launch provider while allowing for competition for a smaller, but still significant, number of launches. Allocated competition focuses on achieving and maintaining assured access to space through two launch providers. IDIQ competition obtains full service launch with enhanced competition. Lastly, the most price-competitive option comes from full and open competition.

The global space market is poised to grow significantly over the coming decade, and the U.S. government should position itself to support and reap the benefits of this growth. This will require some flexibility and perhaps new approaches for how the government buys space launch. The transition away from the RD-180 is an opportunity for the U.S. government to remake the EELV program so that it avoids mistakes from the past and supports a robust and innovative national security space program. 

This is an excerpt from “Beyond the RD-180,” a report released on March 22, 2017, by the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Aerospace Security Project.

Amazon CEO, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has plans to settle the Moon

Amazon CEO and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos hopes to convince NASA and US President Donald Trump to back his plans for an Amazon-like service that will make it possible for America to have a permanent settlement on the Moon.

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson/ Wikimedia Commons

As first reported by The Washington Post, Amazon CEO and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos hopes to convince NASA and US President Donald Trump to back his plans of an Amazon-like service to the moon that would deliver needed gear and cargo for experiments to create a permanent settlement.

“It is time for America to return to the Moon-this time to stay,” Bezos told The Washington Post. “A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective. I sense a lot of people are excited about this.”

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The aerospace company founder outlined his plans in a 7-page white paper sent to NASA. As reported by The Post, Bezos hopes to build a lunar aircraft that will land near the South Pole of the Moon where there is water and sunlight for solar energy.

Meanwhile, several other private aerospace companies also have plans of their own. Elon Musk’s SpaceX suggested tourism missions around the Moon by next year and Bigelow Aerospace hopes to have his space station modules surrounding the Moon by 2020.

Jeff Bezos does a deep dive into bearings in Blue Origin's BE-4 rocket engine update

BE-4 powerpackThe BE-4 rocket engine’s powerpack is installed on a stand at Blue Origin’s West Texas proving ground for startup transient testing. (Blue Origin Photo)

What’s the difference between ball bearings and hydrostatic bearings? You should have more of an inkling after checking out Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ latest update on the development of Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine.

The engine is undergoing testing for use not only on the New Glenn rocket that Bezos’ space venture is planning, but also on United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket.

The BE-4 is designed to provide 550,000 pounds of thrust, propelled by liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas. Bezos says that kind of thrust should be enough to send a payload on the first leg of a trip to the moon when seven of them are firing together.

But that kind of performance can involve a lot of wear and tear, particularly if you’re using traditional ball and roller bearings. To maximize the engine’s reusability, Blue Origin’s team is taking a different approach. To keep the BE-4 running smoothly, Bezos says the turbine at the heart of the engine’s turbopump will use a thin film of the fluid propellants as its bearings.

Reusability is a key selling point for the BE-4, and ULA will be watching the engine’s performance closely as Blue Origin puts it through full-scale tests over the next several weeks.

If the BE-4 stumbles, ULA might have to turn to a Plan B, and Blue Origin’s plans for the New Glenn satellite launch business would suffer a heavy blow. But if everything works, that’ll be a big boost for Bezos’ space company, which is also working on a suborbital spaceship powered by the smaller, hydrogen-fueled BE-3 engine.

Here’s the full text of today’s email update from Bezos:

“Although the BE-4 turbopump is smaller than your refrigerator, it generates 70,000 horsepower from a turbine running at nearly 19,000 revolutions per minute that pumps cryogenic propellants to pressures just under 5,000 pounds per square inch. To react the forces generated by the rotating turbine and impellers inside the pump, production rocket turbopumps to date have used traditional ball and roller bearings. For BE-4, we’re doing something different – we’re using hydrostatic bearings.

“A hydrostatic bearing relies on a fluid film supplied by a high-pressure source to provide support for the shaft and cause it to float without contacting the static structure except at startup and shutdown. The BE-4 main turbopump uses hydrostatic journal bearings for radial support and hydrostatic axial bearings to carry axial thrust. The system is bootstrapped. The high pressure fluid films for the bearings are supplied by the propellants themselves – liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen – tapped off from the pump discharge flows.

“Material selection is a critical consideration for this approach, as there is physical contact between the bearing surfaces during the start transient before the fluid film is fully established and during the shutdown transient as the fluid film dissipates. With lab-scale tests and full-scale bearing rig tests using actual pump hardware, we evaluated over 20 material combinations in over a hundred tests, leading to our baseline material and coating choices.

“Extensive rotordynamic and computational fluid dynamics analyses have shown the feasibility of this design, and recent powerpack tests confirmed that this approach works during the startup and shutdown transients – the most critical phases. The shaft orbit plot below shows that the turbopump lifts off smoothly and centers during a typical start transient, demonstrating a smooth ride on a film of propellant.

“Why do we go to all this trouble instead of just using traditional bearings? Engine life. We’re relentlessly focused on reusability, and properly designed hydrostatic bearings offer the potential for longer engine life without refurbishment. This is one of the many engineering decisions we’ve made that we hope will lead to reusability – not just in principle – but to practical, operational reusability. If ‘reusability’ requires significant refurbishment, inspection, and re-validation between flights, then it simply won’t lead to the far lower launch costs we need to achieve our vision of millions of people living and working in space.

“We’ll keep you up to date as our testing progresses in the coming weeks.

“Gradatim Ferociter!”

Orbit plotFinding its bearing: Orbit plot with starting shaft location (red dot) marking each revolution as shaft spirals to its center during propellant fluid film pressurization. (Blue Origin Graphic via Jeff Bezos)

To get Bezos’ updates delivered to your e-mailbox, register on the Blue Origin website.

Planet X to trigger APOCALYPSE this year and the elite KNOW, say conspiracy theorists

The highly controversial Planet X – which is an alleged planetary object that supposedly lurks on the edge of our solar system and is heading inwards – will cause the apocalypse on Earth which will wipe out most of the population, apart from the elite, conspiracy theorists claim.

By analysing biblical texts and astronomical signs, theorists believe that 2017 is the year that Planet X will arrive, and herald the end of days.

Revelation 12:1 says: “A great sign appeared in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head.

“And being with child, she cried out in her travail and was in anguish of delivery.”

This, according to Christian researcher Bob Meade, is proof enough that the end is nigh.

He says: “The great sign of The Woman as described in revelation 12:1-2 forms and lasts for only a few hours. According to computer generated astronomical models, this sign has never before occurred in human history.

“It will occur once on September 23, 2017. It will never occur again. When it occurs, it places the Earth immediately before the time of the Sixth Seal of Revelation.

“During this time frame on September 23, 2017, the moon appears under the feet of the Constellation Virgo. The Sun appears to precisely clothe Virgo.

“Only the one that occurs in 2017 constitutes a ‘birthing.’ This is when planets traverse within the legs of Virgo.”

Mr Meade then points to Revelation 12:6, which he has linked to catastrophic events on Earth.

The text reads: “I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red.”

YouTube conspiracy theory channel AMTV agrees with Mr Meade¹s theory, and says that the elite have been warning us about it for years.

The host of the video, Christopher Greene, says: “Elon Musk is digging underground and blasting off to space, so is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos through Blue Origin.

“Stephen Hawking is warning of the end of the world, he says if we don¹t get off the planet in the next 100 years, we’ll all be dead.

“Bill Gates is warning and through his rhetoric and messaging, basically telling the American people and global citizens that close to a third or two thirds of the population could be wiped out if they don’t take vaccines.”

However, AMTV’s followers were not so convinced.

One commented on the recent video: “Christopher, you’d be advised to drop discussion on this ridiculous Planet X crap.”

Another added: “What utter nonsense. Many people predicted that Trump won’t take office on Jan 20, the World will end on March 15 because of the Debt Ceiling and now this?!”

Silicon Beach Report March 13: SpaceX Plans to Launch Commercial Satellite Tuesday Morning

SpaceX plans to launch a commercial satellite Tuesday morning, Snap Inc. hires former Apple News head to lead its Discover portal, and Snap Inc. building sales team in Germany.

Snap Inc. Hires Former Apple News Head to Lead Discover Portal

Snap Inc. has hired Donna Ogier, former head of Apple News, to lead its media portal Discover, reports Recode. Ogier’s title at the company is “global publishing manager” and she started at Snap in February.

SpaceX Plans to Launch Commercial Satellite Tuesday Morning

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the EchoStar 23 communications satellite is scheduled to lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday, reports The liftoff will not include a landing attempt by the Falcon 9’s first stage because the rocket won’t have enough fuel to come back down to earth safely due to the satellite’s weight and the distance it is being carried into geostationary-transfer orbit.

Snap Building Sales Team in Germany

Snap Inc. has hired its first employee in Germany and plans to hire a small team in the country by the end of the year, reports Business Insider. The company is looking to build an advertising salesforce in the country.

Send tips on L.A. tech companies and startups to reporter Garrett Reim via Follow @garrettreim on Twitter for the latest in L.A. tech news.

How Soon Should We Set Off For Mars?

Jeff Bezos is into heraldry. His Blue Origin factory in Kent, Washington, is littered with it—the company’s feather icon, symbolizing “the perfection of flight”; the slow-but-steady tortoise; the Latin motto “Gradatim Ferociter,” “step by step, ferociously.” His methodical approach notwithstanding, Amazon’s CEO set a couple of deadlines for his spaceflight spinoff this month, both in 2020. That is when Bezos expects to begin flying the …