Author Topic: Per Eric Berger, Blue and Bezos not really interested in LEO  (Read 43516 times)

Online meekGee

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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.
True, but a station is still an artificial construct here. When a Mars ship is ready to go, it can be fueled and loaded by tanker, cargo, and passenger transports.

The departing ship IS the LEO station.

A lot of the station scenarios try to solve the question of "What can be done with a LEO station", instead of trying to solve specific problems and see if a LEO station comes up as the preferred solution.

It's ISS-esque thinking.  Pre-suppose a station, and then find things for it to do.

We need to start at the end: "There is a Starship about to depart, fueled and loaded" and ask ourselves what's the most cost efficient way to get there.

Actually, the question is "There is a fleet of many Starships ready to go" and you can see the problem of a space station - it has to scale with the number of ships.  So clearly you are better off using the departing ships as the staging points.

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Offline clongton

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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.

The airport metaphore is most appropriate for lunar surface destinations. But it would also be useful for interplanetary missions staged from an EML-2 station. The spacecraft could go to either the lunar surface or the interplanetary station at EML-2 which, delta-v wise, is literally halfway to anywhere else in the solar system.
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Offline Greg Hullender

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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.
I thought his public statements (few as they've been) were that the moon was his goal. Elon wants to colonize Mars, but Bezos thinks it should be the moon. Yeah, the things they're doing don't seem to take them there directly, but, hey, the Falcon 9 doesn't exactly look like a Mars rocket either.

Sadly, I'm afraid I've joined the people who think the things Blue Origin is doing aren't going to take anyone anywhere anytime soon. Not counting suborbital (because "there's no there there!") I'd love to be surprised, of course.

Offline Coastal Ron

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I thought his public statements (few as they've been) were that the moon was his goal. Elon wants to colonize Mars, but Bezos thinks it should be the moon.

Well the current Blue Origin "Our Vision" statement is:
Quote
Blue Origin was founded with a vision of millions of people living and working in space for the benefit of Earth. Blue Origin envisions a time when people can tap into the limitless resources of space and enable the movement of damaging industries into space to preserve Earth, humanity’s blue origin.

Nothing specifically about the Moon in that, and I think Jeff Bezos has been pretty general about where humans would migrate to in space as they leave Earth.
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 TheRadicalModerate

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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.

I think this is right, but it ignores the likelihood that building a new launcher was a strategic blunder.

It was an understandable blunder, because there was no launcher capable of fulfilling the mission of jump-starting a cislunar economy when they started.  If Jeff and known that F9, FH, and Starship were all likely to beat Blue to the punch, he might have embarked upon a much different strategy, and Blue might already be on the Moon.  (They might also have paid a lot more attention to management and corporate culture.)

Now, they seem to be stuck reprising all the low points of the Sunk Cost Fallacy, trying desperately to make money off the strategic mistake, rather than cutting bait and fixing the mistake.

The launcher business sucks.  Even SpaceX knows that.  The profitable business is leveraging the launcher with profitable payloads, as SpaceX is trying to do with Starlink, and no doubt as they intend to do eventually with Mars traffic.  I think Blue knows this, but I also think they don't really know what the magical payload is that makes it all better.  (I don't think it's Kuiper; Amazon has a fiduciary responsibility that exceeds its loyalty to Jeff, and Starship--even at retail prices--is almost certainly cheaper than New Glenn will be.)

I thought his public statements (few as they've been) were that the moon was his goal. Elon wants to colonize Mars, but Bezos thinks it should be the moon.

Bezos thinks the Moon is the means to the end of getting millions of people to live and work in orbit, which is his ultimate goal.  As robotbeat said, Bezos is an O'Neillian. I think he's right.  I think this is much more likely than building a vibrant civilization on Mars.  But if SpaceX is wrong, they can eat Blue's lunar lunch any time they want to, and Blue can't defend itself.

The airport metaphor is most appropriate for lunar surface destinations. But it would also be useful for interplanetary missions staged from an EML-2 station. The spacecraft could go to either the lunar surface or the interplanetary station at EML-2 which, delta-v wise, is literally halfway to anywhere else in the solar system.

That's an airport with really high fuel costs--unless you have a mature lunar ISRU operation that takes them down by a factor of five or so.  But it does give you a lot more flexibility in terms of your orbital elements.

I think there's still a lunar pony hiding in the Blue pile of... technology.  Lunar ISRU + L2 refueling might be that pony.  But if they don't grab a shovel pretty quick and start looking for it, the pony will be dead.

Offline M.E.T.

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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.

Quote
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...

https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1530350640693665794?s=46&t=CE031FZBpdUf279lfvQXuA

Basically, Jeff has taken his eye off the ball.
« Last Edit: 02/19/2023 04:55 am by M.E.T. »

Offline JayWee

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Bezos thinks the Moon is the means to the end of getting millions of people to live and work in orbit, which is his ultimate goal.  As robotbeat said, Bezos is an O'Neillian. I think he's right.  I think this is much more likely than building a vibrant civilization on Mars.  But if SpaceX is wrong, they can eat Blue's lunar lunch any time they want to, and Blue can't defend itself.
That doesn't seem to square with the absolutely abysmal Option A HLS proposal though.
If that was the case, BO would be building moon landers as a core competency. Blue Moon appeared to be that, but it was thrown away in lieu of a multi-company bid. I wonder what they'll propose this time.



Offline TrevorMonty



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 use to think that transferring vehicles for different legs of journey made sense but not so sure now. LEO to lunar surface is all propulsive about 6km/s. If aerobraking is used on return leg then its closer to 3km/s which is massive fuel saving which justifies carrying extra mass of heatshield. Using Stokes approach of cooling heatshield with LH saves on dry mass which helps on wayout.
I not sure we'd return this vehicle to earth surface, especially every trip in case of passengers. For cargo it's probably easier for it to do round trip from earth surface.

In case of Mars aerobraking can be used for landing then again for return leg. Landing on earth allows for refurbishing and loading.

Online Purona

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Bezos thinks the Moon is the means to the end of getting millions of people to live and work in orbit, which is his ultimate goal.  As robotbeat said, Bezos is an O'Neillian. I think he's right.  I think this is much more likely than building a vibrant civilization on Mars.  But if SpaceX is wrong, they can eat Blue's lunar lunch any time they want to, and Blue can't defend itself.
That doesn't seem to square with the absolutely abysmal Option A HLS proposal though.
If that was the case, BO would be building moon landers as a core competency. Blue Moon appeared to be that, but it was thrown away in lieu of a multi-company bid. I wonder what they'll propose this time.
it was never thrown away Blue Moon and HLS are the same system, but the HLS version is larger and supports an ascent module for docking.
« Last Edit: 02/19/2023 01:17 pm by Purona »

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.
Blue might if they actually start executing. New Glenn is a good design, and they claim they want to go for full reuse eventually.

Blue would have to have a pace of innovation faster than SpaceX.  Even discounting Starship, I don't think we should compare an organization that has a launch cadence of ~85 a year (and increasing) with an organization that hasn't yet made orbit.  It seems ridiculous to do so.

Perhaps Chuck would better say "I don't want SpaceX to be the only company launching," because if we're talking monopoly, that horse already left the barn maybe two years ago.
« Last Edit: 02/19/2023 03:24 pm by RedLineTrain »

Offline Robotbeat

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Well yes, my statement is conditional on, you know, actual execution. Just saying the overall design concept is pretty good and relevant to the 2020s, unlike Vulcan, SLS, Ariane 6, Firefly Alpha, Japan's H3, the vast majority of China's rockets, and all of Russia's.

ULA has been pretty decent at execution, for instance, but their overall design concepts are really not relevant to the 2020s.

If Blue had ULA's level of execution, they'd already be flying and would have been giving SpaceX some much-needed competition. Still not likely at the same level, but I just wanted to point out New Glenn is a good, modern design concept.
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Offline RedLineTrain

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Yes, I agree that the design is relevant or could be redesigned to be relevant for the '20s.  But even if relevant, Blue doesn't appear to be ambitious enough on launch rate to impact SpaceX's market position appreciably.

Offline DanClemmensen

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Bezos thinks the Moon is the means to the end of getting millions of people to live and work in orbit, which is his ultimate goal.  As robotbeat said, Bezos is an O'Neillian. I think he's right.  I think this is much more likely than building a vibrant civilization on Mars.  But if SpaceX is wrong, they can eat Blue's lunar lunch any time they want to, and Blue can't defend itself.
That doesn't seem to square with the absolutely abysmal Option A HLS proposal though.
If that was the case, BO would be building moon landers as a core competency. Blue Moon appeared to be that, but it was thrown away in lieu of a multi-company bid. I wonder what they'll propose this time.
My opinion: their Option A HLS was exactly what NASA asked for (i.e., the NASA reference design) and at about the price NASA expected. It's not their fault that NASA's reference design was basically flags&footprints, or that SpaceX had a Starship-based concept ready to go. BO ("national team") did not think it was their mission to turn Artemis into a viable lunar program instead of a joke. Neither did SpaceX. It was an accident.

Offline the_big_boot

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In other words - he has no business plan for LEO.
But... weren't they talking about space/LEO manufacturing?
Not really, there is no business case. If you listen to the entire interview (Eric Berger is the space journalist from arstecnica), they go one to talk about how no one has a closed business case for a leo station yet. Its always been that "magic thing you manufacture in space" since the 70s. After 50 years, no one has any idea what that is though.

Then Varda Space and others are dead too...

you see the thing about Varda, even they are kinda against LEO stations. with the reasoning being that human space flight and the infrastructure for it is still very expensive and so for manufacturing stuff in space to really be viable you need as little to no human involvement in space as possible

Online meekGee

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Yes, I agree that the design is relevant or could be redesigned to be relevant for the '20s.  But even if relevant, Blue doesn't appear to be ambitious enough on launch rate to impact SpaceX's market position appreciably.
The problem with NG was not the concept itself - it was basically a "me too" to the F9's "I'm first" design.

NG was to be a bigger and better F9, and there's nothing wrong with that.

But if you're going to be a follower, you need to be faster than the leader, and that's really hard when the leader keeps going this fast, and keeps innovating.

And on top of that, BO moved relatively slowly, and the combination of the two was devastating.

So now NG is losing out to Starship, and so they're pivoting to a reusable upper stage which is good - but again, only if they can move as fast as SpaceX.

Honestly, what advice would you have given JB (other than to not hire half of the Old Space leadership)?  "Be an Elon"?

It takes singular people to affect the level of change and innovation Musk did. In terms of technical depth, leadership, industrialism... That's the long and short of it.

Bringing it back to LEO/Lunar/Mars - I'd listen to what Musk has to say. SpaceX showed zero interest in orbital stations, and a very limited one in Lunar presence - even though they are positioned to dominate both.  There's a reason for that.
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Offline Coastal Ron

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Bringing it back to LEO/Lunar/Mars - I'd listen to what Musk has to say. SpaceX showed zero interest in orbital stations, and a very limited one in Lunar presence - even though they are positioned to dominate both.  There's a reason for that.

Well SpaceX doesn't care about space stations because Elon Musk is focused on colonizing the surface of Mars, and his transportation system is optimized for getting people and cargo from the surface of Earth to the surface of Mars with the least amount of hardware. Musk is a "feel the soil between my toes" kind of guy, so I don't think he would ever spend his money on space stations.

Personally I don't see a market for people living in LEO, because it is too close to Earth. So it is not surprising to me that Jeff Bezos would not be interested in LEO, since if you are going to build colonies in space for humans to live, those colonies would likely be placed well beyond LEO. Kind of like having a vacation home, you don't buy one in the same neighborhood you live in, you get one well outside of where you live...  ;)

But with all the talk of moving people out into space, you'd think that Bezos would be more active in designing or proposing space stations that could be built using New Glenn, but that hasn't really happened either, so it is unclear what Jeff Bezos is actually passionate about vs just mildly interested.

Regarding LEO space stations, I think if we do have lots of people living in Earth local space, then there will be lots of space-only transportation systems. Once they become prevalent enough there will be a shift from do-everything vehicles like the Starship to more segmented transportation systems like we see here on Earth. So transit stations in LEO will make sense. But they are not needed now, that is true.
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 Bob Shaw

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Perhaps SpaceX or BO will buy Stoke and change the ground rules yet again. F9 extended first stage plus a Stoke plug nozzle second stage would make a fully reusable design, as would a Stoke-based upper stage on BO’s offerings. Both Musk and Bezos have money to burn and Stoke would be a tiny purchase by their standards.

Offline Robert_the_Doll

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Quote from: meekGee
The problem with NG was not the concept itself - it was basically a "me too" to the F9's "I'm first" design.

This is fundamentally flawed as a thesis. There is little indication that New Glenn was a "me too" in any way any more than SpaceX and Elon Musk using vertical landing on a pad, ship, or barge was a rip-off of what Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos were planning on doing with New Shepard and the then Orbital Transport System rocket to launch their biconic capsule that ultimately became New Glenn back in the late 2000s and early 2010s.




Offline Robotbeat

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Yup. SpaceX/Elon didn’t decide to go the direction of vertical landing for reuse until 2010. They were parachutes until that year.

Blue had decided to go the direction of vertical landing since just a few years after it was founded, about a decade earlier.  Its first VTVL testbed flew in 2005, called Charon (jet engines to simulate rocket flight). Its second was the rocket powered Goddard in 2006.

SpaceX was still 100% parachutes at this time.

New Glenn wasn’t “me too.” If anything, Falcon 9 was. Elon dismissed DC-X’s/Blue’s VTVL approach as too complicated/expensive until Masten Space Systems’ in-air relight showed even some guys in a “garage” could do it…

SpaceX had tried and failed to achieve recovery with parachutes with Falcon 1 and were about to attempt the same with Falcon 9 which flew successfully that year. (The first few Falcon 9s attempted parachute recovery… to the same result as the Falcon 1 attempts.)

Masten’s stunt convinced Elon to charter a study on VTVL with Falcon 9, and SpaceX soon went hard in that direction, with the redesign of Falcon 9 to the octoweb v1.1 configuration, throttleable Merlin 1D, the Grasshopper program, etc, and ultimately left Blue Origin in their dust…
« Last Edit: 02/19/2023 06:59 pm by Robotbeat »
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Offline TheRadicalModerate

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Bezos thinks the Moon is the means to the end of getting millions of people to live and work in orbit, which is his ultimate goal.  As robotbeat said, Bezos is an O'Neillian. I think he's right.  I think this is much more likely than building a vibrant civilization on Mars.  But if SpaceX is wrong, they can eat Blue's lunar lunch any time they want to, and Blue can't defend itself.
That doesn't seem to square with the absolutely abysmal Option A HLS proposal though.
If that was the case, BO would be building moon landers as a core competency. Blue Moon appeared to be that, but it was thrown away in lieu of a multi-company bid. I wonder what they'll propose this time.

It squares with it if you assume that they're now desperate to recover some of the sunk costs on New Glenn.  They could afford to do the lander, but they didn't have the time or resources to do the ascender, and the transfer element was basically a hack to cover the delta-v deficit from not being able to count on the launcher being ready.

I'm dying to see what they think Boeing is going to bring to the party that Cygnus couldn't.  I wonder if they're looking at an EUS derivative.

Tags: blue bezos LEO station berger 
 

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