Author Topic: SpaceX vs BlueOrigin - Whose Approach / Business Strategy is Better?  (Read 69017 times)

Online Robotbeat

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Blue Origin is already pursuing the same kind of approach. No need for copying.
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Offline The Amazing Catstronaut

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After watching SX just recover a first stage from a GTO launch, I would have to say that their strategy is rock solid.

The first two successful landings were LEO and we were all wondering if there was even enough fuel to make a landing after GTO launch. Question answered. 

If I were at BO, ULA or Arianespace, I would consider swallowing my pride and going into copycat mode.

Ariane physically can't. The organisation, launch rate, their current architectures and the way that they contract elements of said architectures makes it completely impossible for Arianespace to imitate a SpaceX-esque business model. They could hypothetically make a reusable launcher, but the transition would not be smooth. ULA is bound by similar problems, but the potential for gridlock isn't as extreme for ULA. ULA's current LVs are significantly less competitive than Ariane's for the global commercial market however.

Blue are trying their own method, and it seems to be winning them customers. Granted, I expect Blue to be significantly slower to progress than SpaceX, but they have a roadmap they can ride with. Watching Blue be blue is interesting in of itself. For one thing, Besos does not think like Musk - they have very different approaches to running companies. For another, their architectures are incompatible - what unites them is VTVL and having a core grand plan which the companies cater towards.

SpaceX is doing sterling by being SpaceX. Let's see what Blue can do by being Blue.

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Offline Space Ghost 1962

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Keep in mind origins of finance of each of these. None are chartered to be a SX clone, nor is that ever likely.

ULA is chartered to do govt/military launch. Oh and after the fact possibly maybe sort of commercial. Same thing goes with most global providers.

OA is chartered to do small payload launch with recycled solid motors, Pegasus. And Antares for CRS flights.

BO is doing a narrow reusable HSF program currently suborbital and then orbital.

These are financed very carefully for those limited goals. Nothing more for more legos or snapping them together differently. Sorry space cadets.

To do something like suggested in above posts would require significant commitment beyond what is present.

Ask yourself who/where/what would do such, and for what reason?

Offline Cherokee43v6

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The title question for this thread seems to me to be a bit disingenuous.

Why does one have to be better than the other?

Currently, they have very different goals.  What will measure success for each is how they accomplish those goals. 

SpaceX got started nearly 15 years ago, I remember when they were one of the pages listed on the Xprize entries.  Blue Origin has really only been around half as long, from what I can remember.

SpaceX never seriously went for the sub-orbital concept.  All along, they've wanted to put things up there to stay.  Blue Origin has looked at the space tourist market for up and down flights as a source of income.

SpaceX has never offered their engines/systems for sale except as a complete launch vehicle.  Blue Origin has an agreement with ULA to develop and be a contractor for engines for the Vulcan Rocket.

Both have clear-cut paths to success, it is up to the Management of each to stay on point to achieve it.

My only real complaint is the back and forth between Bezos and Musk over landings.  They've made it so you can't see a news report on a SpaceX landing without the reporter mentioning 'Blue Origin does this too'(and vice-versa).  While what neither company is doing is easy, what SpaceX is doing is orders of magnitude harder than what Blue Origin is doing.  They don't need to be so in your face competitive about it since they aren't even after the same markets.
« Last Edit: 05/07/2016 11:22 PM by Cherokee43v6 »
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Online Kryten

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SpaceX got started nearly 15 years ago, I remember when they were one of the pages listed on the Xprize entries.  Blue Origin has really only been around half as long, from what I can remember.
Blue Origin predate SpaceX by over a year, they were just much less public for their early existence.

Online Robotbeat

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SpaceX got started nearly 15 years ago, I remember when they were one of the pages listed on the Xprize entries.  Blue Origin has really only been around half as long, from what I can remember.
Blue Origin predate SpaceX by over a year, they were just much less public for their early existence.
And slower.
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Offline jongoff

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SpaceX got started nearly 15 years ago, I remember when they were one of the pages listed on the Xprize entries.  Blue Origin has really only been around half as long, from what I can remember.
Blue Origin predate SpaceX by over a year, they were just much less public for their early existence.
And slower.

They've taken a while to hit their stride, but their progress seems to be accelerating. And with Bezos cashing in $671M worth of Amazon stock this week, that may potentially accelerate even further (assuming that Blue is one of the reasons for him selling those shares)...

~Jon

Offline The Amazing Catstronaut

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Offline TrevorMonty

SpaceX got started nearly 15 years ago, I remember when they were one of the pages listed on the Xprize entries.  Blue Origin has really only been around half as long, from what I can remember.
Blue Origin predate SpaceX by over a year, they were just much less public for their early existence.
And slower.

They've taken a while to hit their stride, but their progress seems to be accelerating. And with Bezos cashing in $671M worth of Amazon stock this week, that may potentially accelerate even further (assuming that Blue is one of the reasons for him selling those shares)...

~Jon
That should help pay for a orbital LV and its facilities.

Offline Space Ghost 1962

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SpaceX got started nearly 15 years ago, I remember when they were one of the pages listed on the Xprize entries.  Blue Origin has really only been around half as long, from what I can remember.
Blue Origin predate SpaceX by over a year, they were just much less public for their early existence.
And slower.

They've taken a while to hit their stride, but their progress seems to be accelerating. And with Bezos cashing in $671M worth of Amazon stock this week, that may potentially accelerate even further (assuming that Blue is one of the reasons for him selling those shares)...

Be careful with presumptions here. There's no indication that he can step on the pedal and accelerate yet.

Likely scenario is a gradual ramp up of suborbital flight tests, a kerolox methalox booster engine on a test stand, fabrication of orbital stage test articles, a CCAFS pad, fit checks and static tests. Many of these items might be hard to hide away from the public, so you'll see him coming years in advance.

And you don't usually fund these with a large stock sale as being capital efficient. So that also may be unrelated.

From a strictly business perspective, bringing revenue online should be his priority, so producing joy rides and engines should be on the critical path. And, the revenue from those would need to be compared to rivals revenue stream, of GSO sat plus CRS. Also, from a net profit basis considering both with maturity/expectation of future business based on prior performance. The same stuff that ULA uses against SX ...

edit:
wrong
« Last Edit: 05/08/2016 10:15 PM by Space Ghost 1962 »

Offline Lemurion

Ignoring the fact they are two very different business models, if you were to directly compare the two SpaceX is "winning" and it's not even close.

SpaceX is a launch services provider with billions of dollars in contracts and a multi-year track record in the industry. Blue is still testing a research vehicle. As a business, SpaceX is clearly more successful. Then again, I'd argue that at this point it may be a bit of a stretch to even call Blue a "business."

When it comes to achieving their goals, and technological advancement, things get a little murkier, but I would say that SpaceX is further ahead on the "race to reusability." Everything Bezos has is reusable, but none of Blue's hardware is suitable for orbit. Musk has full orbital capability with Falcon 9, and both stage 1 and Dragon are suitable for reuse.

Blue is targeting its first orbital launch for 2019, SpaceX is targeting putting a Dragon on Mars in 2018. I don't know if either company will make those targets, but it does show where their current goals sit.

Personally, I want to see both companies succeed, but right now SpaceX is doing more difficult things than Blue is, and is pushing a more aggressive agenda. Blue's slower pace and greater secrecy makes it harder to get excited about its achievements.

Offline ncb1397

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SpaceX got started nearly 15 years ago, I remember when they were one of the pages listed on the Xprize entries.  Blue Origin has really only been around half as long, from what I can remember.
Blue Origin predate SpaceX by over a year, they were just much less public for their early existence.
And slower.

Could come down to the whims of NASA selection officers. SpaceX got picked, Blue Origin didn't. Simple as that. Blue Origin going as fast as they are is actually impressive considering they didn't win any major government contracts.
« Last Edit: 05/09/2016 05:47 PM by ncb1397 »

Offline sanman

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Was this related to the fact that Blue Origin started out with suborbital flights, which NASA might not be so interested in as compared to orbital flights, which is what SpaceX started out with through Falcon-1?

SpaceX may have benefited from being in the right place at the right time, as it was one of the only private orbital launch providers when the Shuttle was retired, that at least had a roadmap to more significant capabilities while providing lower costs. If SpaceX launch costs had been more comparable to ULA, would their bids for COTS/CRS have won?

Offline Pipcard

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BE-4 and BE-3 both have higher efficiency than Merlin.  This will provide more payload, especially to deep space, for the same rocket mass.  That means less thrust at liftoff, which means less money.  The BE-3 deep throttling is also impressive and something that Merlin cannot do.

 - Ed Kyle
[...]

In fact, the empirical evidence is opposite your claims.   Rockets with hydrogen upper stages are known for being expensive (Atlas, Delta, H-II, Ariane).  The low cost rockets (Falcon, Soyuz, Proton) do not use hydrogen in the upper stages.

Arianespace will do it using only two liquid engines and solid boosters.  H3 will follow a similar approach.

Not sure why you think having multiple engine designs is a good thing.  Sure it may wring out the last percentage of "efficiency", but the #1 goal should be cost, which is the efficiency of the entire system.  And multiple engine designs, while maybe individually more efficient, are a drag on overall costs compared to a single engine type system like Falcon Heavy.

Falcon 9 and Heavy are basically just variations of one rocket engine using a single propellant combo and a single stage type. That incredibly streamlines manufacturing, testing, and ground support equipment.

Add another propellant combination, especially hydrolox, and you need a new type of rocket stage with different manufacturing considerations (significantly different temperatures changes what the optimal materials are, hydrogen embrittlement becomes a concern, insulation becomes very important whether foam or MLI, etc), a totally new engine that needs to be tested from scratch, new ground support equipment, different training, for hydrogen you have to be really careful about leaks and even condensing out oxygen from the air onto your pipes and stuff, etc.

Basically, you have double as much equipment. Maybe you can get double the payload to GTO for the same lift-off mass, but you might be just better off with another stage of the same propellant combo and same engine and stage type, etc... Basically, Falcon Heavy. Which also has the bonus of getting MUCH more payload to LEO.

The "empirical evidence" makes it clear: Blue Origin should abandon the BE-3 and the three-stage version of New Glenn to reduce operational costs and be more competitive. The two-stage version using common BE-4 methalox engines is good enough, they don't need a deep cryogenic fuel that will only add to complexity and cost!

Optimize for cost, not performance!
« Last Edit: 12/12/2016 04:08 PM by Pipcard »

Offline Navier–Stokes

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The "empirical evidence" makes it clear: Blue Origin should abandon the BE-3 and the three-stage version of New Glenn to reduce operational costs and be more competitive.
I don't think the analysis is quite so black and white for New Glenn.

Keep in mind that, the BE-3 is an existing engine whose development as an upper stage engine is already being paid for by an outside customer. This should significantly reduce development and testing costs.

Also, my impression is that the vast majority of New Glenn missions will be the two stage variant with three stage variant being used only for very demanding BLEO missions. New Glenn should be a very powerful rocket, even in its two stage variant. I don't expect the three stage variant to fly very often (i.e., no more than 1-2 times a year) and many of its missions will likely be government customers who won't mind paying a slight premium.

Offline notsorandom

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Speculating about Blue is like reading tea leaves. That said I wouldn't be surprised if the three stage rocket flies most of the missions. The majority of commercial satellites go beyond LEO. The three stage NG has so much performance that it could launch with two or more commercial communications satellites and place them all in their own GTO or GEO orbits even if there were a significant differences between their respective orbits. The extra lift capability makes comanifesting a lot less of a pain.

Online Robotbeat

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BE-4 and BE-3 both have higher efficiency than Merlin.  This will provide more payload, especially to deep space, for the same rocket mass.  That means less thrust at liftoff, which means less money.  The BE-3 deep throttling is also impressive and something that Merlin cannot do.

 - Ed Kyle
[...]

In fact, the empirical evidence is opposite your claims.   Rockets with hydrogen upper stages are known for being expensive (Atlas, Delta, H-II, Ariane).  The low cost rockets (Falcon, Soyuz, Proton) do not use hydrogen in the upper stages.

Arianespace will do it using only two liquid engines and solid boosters.  H3 will follow a similar approach.

Not sure why you think having multiple engine designs is a good thing.  Sure it may wring out the last percentage of "efficiency", but the #1 goal should be cost, which is the efficiency of the entire system.  And multiple engine designs, while maybe individually more efficient, are a drag on overall costs compared to a single engine type system like Falcon Heavy.

Falcon 9 and Heavy are basically just variations of one rocket engine using a single propellant combo and a single stage type. That incredibly streamlines manufacturing, testing, and ground support equipment.

Add another propellant combination, especially hydrolox, and you need a new type of rocket stage with different manufacturing considerations (significantly different temperatures changes what the optimal materials are, hydrogen embrittlement becomes a concern, insulation becomes very important whether foam or MLI, etc), a totally new engine that needs to be tested from scratch, new ground support equipment, different training, for hydrogen you have to be really careful about leaks and even condensing out oxygen from the air onto your pipes and stuff, etc.

Basically, you have double as much equipment. Maybe you can get double the payload to GTO for the same lift-off mass, but you might be just better off with another stage of the same propellant combo and same engine and stage type, etc... Basically, Falcon Heavy. Which also has the bonus of getting MUCH more payload to LEO.

The "empirical evidence" makes it clear: Blue Origin should abandon the BE-3 and the three-stage version of New Glenn to reduce operational costs and be more competitive. The two-stage version using common BE-4 methalox engines is good enough, they don't need a deep cryogenic fuel that will only add to complexity and cost!

Optimize for cost, not performance!
I'm not so sure it's so clear (even if you cited me for part of your argument). New Glenn is an interesting concept with a different set of trades. Blue is using two more cryogenic propellants, yes, and up to three stages, BUT, they aren't pushing the structures NEARLY as hard as SpaceX is. And single-stick may offer some advantages over the clustering approach.
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Offline Patchouli

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I'm not so sure it's so clear (even if you cited me for part of your argument). New Glenn is an interesting concept with a different set of trades. Blue is using two more cryogenic propellants, yes, and up to three stages, BUT, they aren't pushing the structures NEARLY as hard as SpaceX is. And single-stick may offer some advantages over the clustering approach.

The fact NG's design is not pushing the structure as hard may allow it to achieve a higher flight rate if they can find enough payloads for a rocket that size.

As for remarks that Blue should drop the BE-3 Spacex has to run Falcon 9 at some pretty close margins on GTO missions partly because of the lower ISP of the second stage.
I wonder if Spacex should have added a third stage for GTO missions vs messing around with sub cooled lox.
« Last Edit: 12/13/2016 02:28 AM by Patchouli »

Offline Pipcard

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And single-stick may offer some advantages over the clustering approach.

You'd say that. But you'd also say that a rocket with only first-stage reusability would require a minimum of 6-8 launches/year to be economically viable (apparently based on a Lockheed Martin study), while a rocket with full reusability would require at least 40 launches. (I'm assuming the latter case is because recovery systems on a second stage eat into payload capacity on a 1:1 basis, and have to endure additional stresses, compared to reuse of a first stage. So the flight rate has to be higher to make up for the increased complexity of the system.)

If New Glenn only reused the first stage, the expendable second stage would be oversized and overpriced for most commercial payloads, unless they launch multiple payloads with the excess capacity, like what notsorandom said and what Arianespace did in the early days of Ariane 5. But they'd need to have at least 12 customers (at least 6 flights * at least 2 satellites, or perhaps more) ready every year.

If it was fully reusable, it would require launch rates of at least half this year's total number of orbital launch attempts. Launching commercial payloads one at a time might help in this case.

The "build it and they will come" strategy, it's very risky. ITS is that but on a bigger scale. I'm hoping both of them work, though.
« Last Edit: 12/14/2016 01:38 AM by Pipcard »

Offline Patchouli

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You'd say that. But you'd also say that a rocket with only first-stage reusability would require a minimum of 6-8 launches/year to be economically viable (apparently based on a Lockheed Martin study), while a rocket with full reusability would require at least 40 launches. (I'm assuming the latter case is because recovery systems on a second stage eat into payload capacity on a 1:1 basis, and have to endure additional stresses, compared to reuse of a first stage. So the flight rate has to be higher to make up for the increased complexity of the system.)

If New Glenn only reused the first stage, the expendable second stage would be oversized and overpriced for most commercial payloads, unless they launch multiple payloads with the excess capacity, like what notsorandom said and what Arianespace did in the early days of Ariane 5. But they'd need to have at least 12 customers (at least 6 flights * at least 2 satellites, or perhaps more) ready every year.

If it was fully reusable, it would require launch rates of at least half this year's total number of orbital launch attempts. Launching commercial payloads one at a time might help in this case.

The "build it and they will come" strategy, it's very risky. ITS is that but on a bigger scale. I'm hoping both of them work, though.

New Glenn is much lower risk than ITS as it's still within the limits of what's known engineering wise and Blue has more secure funding.

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