Author Topic: Per Eric Berger, Blue and Bezos not really interested in LEO  (Read 43800 times)

Offline Robotbeat

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Or Berger is not objective...
Pray tell, what exactly do you mean by that?
That he lets his biases influence his reporting[1].  And in particular he has a pro SpaceX bias. I think any fairly dispassionate[2] observer would agree with that assessment.

But so what? It doesn't matter, facts are facts. (so it doesn't matter if he's biased in this instance)

1 - Guess what? We ALL have biases. There is no perfectly[2] dispassionate voice out there.
2 - it's possible to be fairly dispassionate.[3]
3 - yes, I reused a footnote.
I don’t think he has a persistent pro-SpaceX bias. He changes his perspective and opinion based on observed progress (and I can point out how he has done this multiple times… this gives him a pro-reality bias, I suppose…). I do think he doesn’t like the “defense contractor-congressional complex” approach, but that’s irrelevant here as Blue Origin is not an OldSpace defense contractor.

« Last Edit: 02/17/2023 10:23 pm by Robotbeat »
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Offline meekGee

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Or Berger is not objective...
Pray tell, what exactly do you mean by that?
That he lets his biases influence his reporting[1].  And in particular he has a pro SpaceX bias. I think any fairly dispassionate[2] observer would agree with that assessment.

But so what? It doesn't matter, facts are facts. (so it doesn't matter if he's biased in this instance)

1 - Guess what? We ALL have biases. There is no perfectly[2] dispassionate voice out there.
2 - it's possible to be fairly dispassionate.[3]
3 - yes, I reused a footnote.
If you're biased because of facts you've observed, that doesn't count as a pre-conceived bias.

I used to think BO was a big deal. Over time, I got tired of how they carried on, and I now treat their PR accordingly.  They earned this lack of respect.

I still listen though, because maybe something will change.

I doubt Berger is any different. He has been observing much more closely, and has way better sources. I suspect he's had enough too.

"Unbiased" and "objective" don't mean that you appraise all companies and arrive at the conclusion that they're all equal.
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Offline meekGee

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Space tourism is a real, demonstrated business use case for LEO space stations. There are potentially others (a natural staging point for deep space missions, the nearest low gravity point for assembling very large satellites with people or low-latency telerobotics, etc) but this one has been proven.

If it’s enough… well that depends on how cheap you can get it. If you can get the costs down to, say, $500 million per year or lower, then it’s possible IMHO.

NASA shouldn’t invest in it for its own purposes unless it can do so for very cheap. Ideally, NASA would be the minority of revenue and that ought to be the mid-term goal of the program.

Why does tourism require or even desire a LEO station?

A Starship like vehicle can give you all you want, without the need for continuous presence in space with all the cost that it entails. It can go to any orbit or around the moon, and is plenty spacious enough.

All the servicing that goes around human presence can be done at port instead of in orbit, which is so much cheaper.  You take everything you need with you for the trip, and after you land you refresh the galley, empty the tanks, vacuum the rugs, and go again.

Starships are more like cruise ships, since Space is more like the oceans.  It's the trip that's the destination.

--

It's a positive move by BO.  And in the very very long run, as stated upthread, the road to crazy large in-space habitats goes through the moon or asteroids anyway.
Let’s say you want a station-like experience on Starship. Easy, because its volume is so huge. BUT only huge if you have few people, like the 12 people SpaceX currently offers per Starship flight on their website. Let’s say that costs $120 million. That’s $10m per person. But Starship is big enough to fit 480 people for a few hours. If they had a large station in LEO, you could launch 480 people at a time for the same $120 million (give or take). Then, the per-person launch costs are just $250,000 for the same price per launch. Up to a Factor of 40 reduction in launch costs if you don’t have to relaunch your space station for every trip! (Still need servicing, but I think you understand the value proposition here… you can drastically expand the number of people who could afford to go).

Starship is a Jumbo Jet. Sure, you can fit out a Jumbo Jet like a luxury yacht, but it’s ultimately built for mass transit (with sleeper cars if you want a trip all the way to Mars).

EDIT: same argument would apply to a large Blue Origin vehicle.

My argument is that the 480 person station station would cost you more than individual Starship cruises.

Why?  Because the upmass (which is the only thing you'd be saving on) is cheap, but now you'll have to maintain an in-space hotel, including all the life support for example.  All the factors that go into making a manned Starship trip more expensive than a cargo launch would multiply because now it's a permanent habitat.  For example, for a one week trip  Starship would not need a closed life support system.  It'll carry oxygen, water and food from earth for basically no cost.

And Starships are self-contained and can go anywhere - LEO, HEO, lunar...  Can't do that with a station.

As per your cruise ship analogy - note that you could also pack the cruise ship like a jet plane and transport 50,000 people to a sea-borne hotel...  But you don't.  You give each one of them a cabin, and the model works, and again the ship can go to any destination, touch it, and sail right back.
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Offline GWH

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The most straightforward and obvious model of Jeff’s ideas of space utilization is that Jeff is at heart an O’Neillian. And O’Neil Cylinders are not stationed in LEO, they’re too big. They’re also too big to build with material launched from Earth, which is why the focus on lunar ISRU (although I have my doubts this will be cheaper, that is the logic).

Berger is almost certainly correct. I haven’t seen any evidence that Jeff is anything but an O’Neillian, and LEO is not a special place in the O’Neillian approach, other than a transit hub or something.

And the O'Neil cylinders are a good long term goal.... but "Grandatim Ferociter" and all. 

Offline Coastal Ron

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Space tourism is a real, demonstrated business use case for LEO space stations...

I hate it when the media dumbs down a concept to something that no longer is valid, because there have never been "tourists" in space, only adventurers. And an adventurer is someone who "seeks dangerous or exciting experiences", whereas tourism is relatively risk free.

But even from that standpoint I'm not aware of a "proven" business case for LEO space stations. Sure, we've seen an interest in visiting a space station in LEO that was built using taxpayer money, but the relatively small amount of money that was spent to visit the ISS didn't demonstrate that there was a potential business for doing that in LEO. A profitable one, not one that is subsidized by taxpayers.

And while tourists do spend money to stay in hotels, all the talk about space hotels misses the point - the point of going to space is not to stay in a hotel! It is to do something unique while in space, but as of today we really don't know what that is, or how much infrastructure it will take in addition to the "beds in space" part.

Space tourism hasn't started yet.

Quote
...There are potentially others (a natural staging point for deep space missions, the nearest low gravity point for assembling very large satellites with people or low-latency telerobotics, etc) but this one has been proven.

If it’s enough… well that depends on how cheap you can get it. If you can get the costs down to, say, $500 million per year or lower, then it’s possible IMHO.

NASA shouldn’t invest in it for its own purposes unless it can do so for very cheap. Ideally, NASA would be the minority of revenue and that ought to be the mid-term goal of the program.

Maybe there will eventually be a market for space tourism, and LEO would be the logical first place to demonstrate it. Even if that is true though, that may not be of interest to Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin.

I think LEO will be the logical place for transit points, where dedicated Earth-to-LEO transportation systems will transport people and cargo to LEO, offload it at the transit point, where it will then transfer to space-only transportation systems going beyond LEO. But that might not be of interest to Jeff Bezos either.

Hard to know what Jeff Bezos really wants to do in space based on what he has done with Blue Origin so far...
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline sdsds

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We don't yet know much about what value it might be possible to extract from an LEO station. For example, using a rotating station in LEO that provides a lunar gravity simulator might be cost effective in the research, development and test cycle for certain technologies.
Does Bezos think about use cases where LEO is somehow a proxy for somewhere else? We don't know, and Berger's sources might not know either. That said, evidence does indicate he tends to have good sources!
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Offline Robotbeat

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Space tourism is a real, demonstrated business use case for LEO space stations. There are potentially others (a natural staging point for deep space missions, the nearest low gravity point for assembling very large satellites with people or low-latency telerobotics, etc) but this one has been proven.

If it’s enough… well that depends on how cheap you can get it. If you can get the costs down to, say, $500 million per year or lower, then it’s possible IMHO.

NASA shouldn’t invest in it for its own purposes unless it can do so for very cheap. Ideally, NASA would be the minority of revenue and that ought to be the mid-term goal of the program.

Why does tourism require or even desire a LEO station?

A Starship like vehicle can give you all you want, without the need for continuous presence in space with all the cost that it entails. It can go to any orbit or around the moon, and is plenty spacious enough.

All the servicing that goes around human presence can be done at port instead of in orbit, which is so much cheaper.  You take everything you need with you for the trip, and after you land you refresh the galley, empty the tanks, vacuum the rugs, and go again.

Starships are more like cruise ships, since Space is more like the oceans.  It's the trip that's the destination.

--

It's a positive move by BO.  And in the very very long run, as stated upthread, the road to crazy large in-space habitats goes through the moon or asteroids anyway.
Let’s say you want a station-like experience on Starship. Easy, because its volume is so huge. BUT only huge if you have few people, like the 12 people SpaceX currently offers per Starship flight on their website. Let’s say that costs $120 million. That’s $10m per person. But Starship is big enough to fit 480 people for a few hours. If they had a large station in LEO, you could launch 480 people at a time for the same $120 million (give or take). Then, the per-person launch costs are just $250,000 for the same price per launch. Up to a Factor of 40 reduction in launch costs if you don’t have to relaunch your space station for every trip! (Still need servicing, but I think you understand the value proposition here… you can drastically expand the number of people who could afford to go).

Starship is a Jumbo Jet. Sure, you can fit out a Jumbo Jet like a luxury yacht, but it’s ultimately built for mass transit (with sleeper cars if you want a trip all the way to Mars).

EDIT: same argument would apply to a large Blue Origin vehicle.

My argument is that the 480 person station station would cost you more than individual Starship cruises.

Why?  Because the upmass (which is the only thing you'd be saving on) is cheap, but now you'll have to maintain an in-space hotel, including all the life support for example.  All the factors that go into making a manned Starship trip more expensive than a cargo launch would multiply because now it's a permanent habitat.  For example, for a one week trip  Starship would not need a closed life support system.  It'll carry oxygen, water and food from earth for basically no cost.

And Starships are self-contained and can go anywhere - LEO, HEO, lunar...  Can't do that with a station.

As per your cruise ship analogy - note that you could also pack the cruise ship like a jet plane and transport 50,000 people to a sea-borne hotel...  But you don't.  You give each one of them a cabin, and the model works, and again the ship can go to any destination, touch it, and sail right back.
”upmass is cheap” is a good argument if you’re a billionaire and can afford tens of millions for a ticket, not if you’re only able to afford $250,000…
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Offline meekGee

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Space tourism is a real, demonstrated business use case for LEO space stations. There are potentially others (a natural staging point for deep space missions, the nearest low gravity point for assembling very large satellites with people or low-latency telerobotics, etc) but this one has been proven.

If it’s enough… well that depends on how cheap you can get it. If you can get the costs down to, say, $500 million per year or lower, then it’s possible IMHO.

NASA shouldn’t invest in it for its own purposes unless it can do so for very cheap. Ideally, NASA would be the minority of revenue and that ought to be the mid-term goal of the program.

Why does tourism require or even desire a LEO station?

A Starship like vehicle can give you all you want, without the need for continuous presence in space with all the cost that it entails. It can go to any orbit or around the moon, and is plenty spacious enough.

All the servicing that goes around human presence can be done at port instead of in orbit, which is so much cheaper.  You take everything you need with you for the trip, and after you land you refresh the galley, empty the tanks, vacuum the rugs, and go again.

Starships are more like cruise ships, since Space is more like the oceans.  It's the trip that's the destination.

--

It's a positive move by BO.  And in the very very long run, as stated upthread, the road to crazy large in-space habitats goes through the moon or asteroids anyway.
Let’s say you want a station-like experience on Starship. Easy, because its volume is so huge. BUT only huge if you have few people, like the 12 people SpaceX currently offers per Starship flight on their website. Let’s say that costs $120 million. That’s $10m per person. But Starship is big enough to fit 480 people for a few hours. If they had a large station in LEO, you could launch 480 people at a time for the same $120 million (give or take). Then, the per-person launch costs are just $250,000 for the same price per launch. Up to a Factor of 40 reduction in launch costs if you don’t have to relaunch your space station for every trip! (Still need servicing, but I think you understand the value proposition here… you can drastically expand the number of people who could afford to go).

Starship is a Jumbo Jet. Sure, you can fit out a Jumbo Jet like a luxury yacht, but it’s ultimately built for mass transit (with sleeper cars if you want a trip all the way to Mars).

EDIT: same argument would apply to a large Blue Origin vehicle.

My argument is that the 480 person station station would cost you more than individual Starship cruises.

Why?  Because the upmass (which is the only thing you'd be saving on) is cheap, but now you'll have to maintain an in-space hotel, including all the life support for example.  All the factors that go into making a manned Starship trip more expensive than a cargo launch would multiply because now it's a permanent habitat.  For example, for a one week trip  Starship would not need a closed life support system.  It'll carry oxygen, water and food from earth for basically no cost.

And Starships are self-contained and can go anywhere - LEO, HEO, lunar...  Can't do that with a station.

As per your cruise ship analogy - note that you could also pack the cruise ship like a jet plane and transport 50,000 people to a sea-borne hotel...  But you don't.  You give each one of them a cabin, and the model works, and again the ship can go to any destination, touch it, and sail right back.
”upmass is cheap” is a good argument if you’re a billionaire and can afford tens of millions for a ticket, not if you’re only able to afford $250,000…
Yes, but the upmass for a hypothetical space station that is as large
as you postulate is also huge, and the costs of maintaining continuous presence, upkeep and maintenance (MRO, really) while in orbit are much higher than for the cruise ship model.

And again - destinations.  I will bet the tourism will be strictly in cruise ship mode.  For whatever cost of launch at any point in time, you'll be able to get more !/$ using that model.
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Offline Robotbeat

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I think Gravitics, or even larger, is a model that could work. Not small, shuttle-bay-sized modular stations.

If we don’t end up putting dozens or even hundreds of passengers on a Starship launch, the cost won’t be much different than Dragon, just roomier. Only the very rich will be able to afford it. That is not using Starship to its full potential.
« Last Edit: 02/18/2023 04:26 am by Robotbeat »
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Offline meekGee

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I think Gravitics, or even larger, is a model that could work. Not small, shuttle-bay-sized modular stations.

If we don’t end up putting dozens or even hundreds of passengers on a Starship launch, the cost won’t be much different than Dragon, just roomier. Only the very rich will be able to afford it. That is not using Starship to its full potential.
If Pax flights are indeed common, as in P2P common, would a tourism flight remain $120M as you estimated?

P2P would mostly be booster-less, but with the super high reusability of the booster, its component in the cost would diminish.

So the cost would be the running cost of Starship over those days, and I can't see that being anywhere near $100M.
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Online Comga

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Classic Bezos

Bezos pays his people to build a tourist rocket, using the wrong fuel frankly, that can fly over the Karman line, come back down and land upright,..... and then he doesn't use it.  Instead the people descend under parachutes and land in the scrub with braking rockets like 1970's Soyuz.

Then he skips over the small launcher, takes over a decade to build his giant, unusually configured rocket,.... and  now says he is uninterested, but only after scrapping the basis of his reuse plan. 

He aims for LEO, where long term use has been established, even if a business case is sketchy...  and now he says he is uniterested in that.  He shifts his aim to the Moon, where a bit of exploration has taken place but no one has ever stayed long or made anything beyond footprints, tire tracks, and golf divits.

He has a team put together a slap-dash collection of half thought out hardware for NASA's Moon landing program, then sues when told how many ways in which it fails to meet the requirements.

He runs non-profits to support the development of space,.... and turns them into advertising for fast food.

Bezos thinks he is a visionary, but he is not.
(Musk may be a delusional visionary, with his Occupy Mars, but he's got the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field set on stun and astounding technical accomplishments.  You can't blame people for buying in.)

I will have to ask my old colleagues who are working on (edit) Orbital Reef what they think of this.
« Last Edit: 02/18/2023 03:57 pm by Comga »
What kind of wastrels would dump a perfectly good booster in the ocean after just one use?

Offline GWH

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I'm obviously speculating but I suspect Jeff's reasoning went something like this:

1) Blue Origin should be the company that enables millions of people live and work in space.

2) Millions of people can live and work in space only if we can build large structures in space.

3) To build large structures in space, we need to get the building materials from the Moon.

4) To get materials from the Moon, we need transportation systems that can land the necessary ISRU and manufacturing systems.

5) To get those transportation systems, we're going to need a lander and a launcher to put the lander in space.

6) To build a launcher, we need to start small, so let's build a New Shepard vehicle and use it as a cash cow.

Point #5 was the critical error.

IMO the most impactful thing they could have put resources to would have been propellant depots and in space stages.

Back 15 years ago when ULA published their white papers on the subject would have been a great time to start. Makes lunar way easier, builds the transportation architecture necessary to utilize ISRU, and might even provide some extra justification for a LEO station.

Offline JayWee

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I will have to ask my old colleagues who are working on Blue Reef what they think of this.
You mean this? https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=48837.msg2436985#msg2436985
Feels like it's related to Berger's claim.
« Last Edit: 02/18/2023 08:43 am by JayWee »

Offline Steve G

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BO is definitely looking at cis-lunar space, but as stated earlier, why deprioritize the third stage which would optimize New Glenn with a dedicated TLI capability? With all this NASA funding potential, (Human landing systems and lunar cargo) you'd think that getting New Glenn flying to demonstrate they can service cis-lunar space would be a desperate obsession, which doesn't appear to be the case. But, BO is also looking to maximize reusability, and having a three-stage New Glenn would likely mean both second and third stages would be expendable. So having reusable New Jarvis second stages-tankers fueling a reusable lunar tug may be what they are striving for (wild guess, of course) but with only one launch facility, and an unknown turnaround between launches, creates longer LEO loitering and boil-off issues. The BO enigma deepens. The fact that we know more about Chinese lunar aspirations than an American company is rather mind boggling.

Offline clongton

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I think LEO will be the logical place for transit points, where dedicated Earth-to-LEO transportation systems will transport people and cargo to LEO, offload it at the transit point, where it will then transfer to space-only transportation systems going beyond LEO. But that might not be of interest to Jeff Bezos either.

I agree with your point. LEO is where the environment changes completely. Going from atmosphere to pure vacuum means that you can't really build a spacecraft that can operate efficiently in both environments without compromising a lot of things in the design. Yes, it can be and has been done (Apollo) but it is far, far more efficient to have a vehicle designed to opperate efficiently in either environment, not both.

LEO is the perfect place for the space equivilant of an airport. You travel by ground transportation to the airport in a vehicle designed for the ground, where you board an aircraft, a vehicle designed to fly thru the air, to a destination where you board another ground transportation vehicle to take you to your final destination. You don't fly cars, trucks or trains in the air and you don't drive aircraft on the ground. What should be happening is getting into LEO in a vehicle dessigned to operate as efficiently as possible in the atmosphere where you transfer to a vehicle designed to operate as efficiently as possible in the vacuum of space. That's the most efficient and cost effective way to get to destination in space, like the moon or another planet.

I don't even think Starship is the best way to get to Mars for this same reason. I like the design but it is optimized for the atmosphere, to do the skydiver move to bleed off reentry energy and control its orinetation in the air. A better approach would be for Starship to go to the "airport" in LEO, where an interplanetary spacecraft is already docked and waiting, dock to it, and just be along for the ride to Mars, where the ground crew would then re-board it to descend to the Martian surface. Starship would be the ascent and descent vehicle, but the interplanetary journey would be onboard a vehicle designed for that purpose. My opinion.

Jeff seems to be floundering around, trying to figure out how to get a piece of the pie without even knowing yet what flavor the pie is. If he ever properly figures it out he would be a major player in HSF but until then I have come to view him as a major distraction. I didn't used to feel that way but his actions and non-actions in the recent past have changed my opinion. It makes me worry about the future of the Vulcan launch vehicle. As much as I like SpaceX, I do NOT want them to be a monopoly. We need ULA and, if he ever gets his act together, Blue Origin.

For example, designing, building and operating the LEO "airport" would be a great way for BO to gain the necessary experience to properly plan and build an O'Neil cylinder, something that he originally said was his main goal.
« Last Edit: 02/18/2023 06:30 pm by clongton »
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Offline RedLineTrain

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Jeff seems to be floundering around, trying to figure out how to get a piece of the pie without even knowing yet what flavor the pie is. If he ever properly figures it out he would be a major player in HSF but until then I have come to view him as a major distraction. I didn't used to feel that way but his actions and non-actions in the recent past have changed my opinion. It makes me worry about the future of the Vulcan launch vehicle. As much as I like SpaceX, I do NOT want them to be a monopoly. We need ULA and, if he ever gets his act together, Blue Origin.

Why should we care about the fate of ULA and Blue Origin?  Neither exert (nor will exert) much competitive pressure on SpaceX.

Offline Robotbeat

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Jeff seems to be floundering around, trying to figure out how to get a piece of the pie without even knowing yet what flavor the pie is. If he ever properly figures it out he would be a major player in HSF but until then I have come to view him as a major distraction. I didn't used to feel that way but his actions and non-actions in the recent past have changed my opinion. It makes me worry about the future of the Vulcan launch vehicle. As much as I like SpaceX, I do NOT want them to be a monopoly. We need ULA and, if he ever gets his act together, Blue Origin.

Why should we care about the fate of ULA and Blue Origin?  Neither exert (nor will exert) much competitive pressure on SpaceX.
Blue might if they actually start executing. New Glenn is a good design, and they claim they want to go for full reuse eventually.
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Online TheRadicalModerate

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I think LEO will be the logical place for transit points, where dedicated Earth-to-LEO transportation systems will transport people and cargo to LEO, offload it at the transit point, where it will then transfer to space-only transportation systems going beyond LEO. But that might not be of interest to Jeff Bezos either.

For example, designing, building and operating the LEO "airport" would be a great way for BO to gain the necessary experience to properly plan and build an O'Neil cylinder, something that he originally said was his main goal.

The "airport" metaphor might be adequate for lunar transit, but it's less apt for interplanetary destinations, where inclination and RAAN at time of departure are a big deal.

Another problem is that Orbital Reef isn't meant to be the airport; it's more like the Marriott and light industrial zone across the street from the airport.  Berger's comment was specifically about Blue's interest level in the Commercial LEO Destinations program.  If Eric's sources are correct, then I agree that CLD isn't an area in which Blue should show much interest, unless NASA is paying them enough to be interested.
« Last Edit: 02/18/2023 08:52 pm by TheRadicalModerate »

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Eric Berger's comment sort of confirms my personal crazy idea that the founding purpose of Blue Origin was New Shepard and everything else was handwaving and BS. Blue was founded around the same time as Virgin Galactic, in the days following the Xprize. The BE-1 engine was some kind of hybrid while BE-2 was kerosene and peroxide. Both look like rocket engines based around "benign" fuels that a commercial operation might use. High Test Peroxide is hardly benign except in compared to liquid oxygen. Neither engine were powerful enough for New Shepard so BE-3 Blue went to Hydrox, developed a perfectly good engine that they used on New Shepard but never tried to advance to and orbital rocket using it. Maybe they were waiting for a larger engine (BE-4) but a cluster of 7 BE-3s and a BE-3 upper stage engine would have given them a rocket comparable to Delta IV medium. And if Blue was waiting for that larger engine they seem lackadaisical about putting it together. It all seems as if Bezos lost interest in space once New Shepard was working.

But Blue just does not seem all that dedicated to creating a launch system.

Offline Coastal Ron

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Eric Berger's comment sort of confirms my personal crazy idea that the founding purpose of Blue Origin was New Shepard and everything else was handwaving and BS.

With all the investment Jeff Bezos has made in New Glenn, it is hard to see it as some sort of elaborate head-fake. Occam's razor leads us to believe that Jeff Bezos, at least for some period of time, was serious about New Glenn, and they certainly don't look like they are shutting down the program.

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But Blue just does not seem all that dedicated to creating a launch system.

Well they certainly seem to be under-performing, considering Blue Origin started before SpaceX...
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Tags: blue bezos LEO station berger 
 

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