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Jeff Bezos says BE-4 rocket test went awry

BE-4 rocket engine testing
In a photo from March 2017, the 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)

In a rare update, the Blue Origin space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos reported that it lost a set of powerpack test hardware for its BE-4 rocket engine over the weekend, but added that such a setback is “not unusual” during development.

“That’s why we always set up our development programs to be hardware-rich,” the company tweeted today. “Back into testing soon.”

Blue Origin is headquartered in Kent, Wash., but the BE-4 is being tested at its facility in West Texas, on ranchland owned by Bezos. The powerpack is the heart of a rocket engine, pumping fuel and oxidizer to the engine’s combustion chamber.

The current round of engine testing is key to the company’s fortunes: Blue Origin is planning to use the BE-4, which is powered by liquefied natural gas, on its own New Glenn orbital-class rocket. Blue Origin already has started lining up satellite customers for the New Glenn.

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Jeff Bezos gets his bearings on rocket engine

BE-4 rocket engine testing
The 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.

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Jeff Bezos shows off shiny new rocket engine

BE-4 engine
Blue Origin employees move the BE-4 engine through the company’s production facility in Kent, Wash. (Blue Origin Photo via Jeff Bezos / Twitter)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos is providing a sneak peek at his Blue Origin space venture’s BE-4 rocket engine, which could someday help power missions to the moon.

Today’s preview tweets comes a day before Bezos is expected to update his vision for commercial space missions at the Satellite 2017 conference in Washington, D.C. The BE-4 engine, fueled by liquefied natural gas, is expected to play a key role in that vision.

Bezos announced that the first BE-4 has been built at Blue Origin’s production facility in Kent, Wash., and the second and third are “following close behind.”

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Jeff Bezos gives a boost to his rocket engine

Ox Boost Pump
An employee works on the BE-4 Ox Boost Pump prior to engine installation. (Blue Origin Photo)

And now for something completely different from Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos: His latest mass email isn’t about jobs, or Donald Trump, or his new D.C. digs. It’s about a rocket engine boost pump.

Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture, which he founded more than 16 years ago, is in the midst of building a next-generation rocket engine fueled by liquefied natural gas, known as the BE-4. Today, Bezos lifted the curtain on one of the engine’s subassemblies and highlighted how Blue Origin is using 3-D printing.

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Rocket reports from Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin

Image: VSS Unity
Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo rocket plane is brought out from its hangar in Mojave, Calif. A portion of the plane’s WhiteKnightTwo mothership can be seen at right. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

In the past few weeks, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space venture and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture have both had a lot to talk about. Today, both companies delved more deeply into the nitty-gritty of getting rockets ready for flight.

Three weeks after Virgin Galactic unveiled its second SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, known as VSS Unity, the company said it was putting the craft through integrated vehicle ground testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. These tests involves operating the plane’s systems under ground conditions that mimic space conditions as much as possible.

“For example, instead of just testing our feather lock actuators at room temperature, we use liquid nitrogen to chill them down to the temperatures they will experience when performing at high altitude,” Virgin Galactic said in today’s update.

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Jeff Bezos opens up Blue Origin rocket factory

Image: Bezos at Blue Origin
Billionaire Jeff Bezos stands beside the copper nozzle for a BE-4 rocket engine at Blue Origin’s production facility in Kent, Wash., while journalists snap pictures. (GeekWire photo by Alan Boyle)

KENT, Wash. – For the first time, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos guided a pack of journalists around his Blue Origin rocket factory today and showed off hardware that could send people on suborbital rides to outer space as early as next year.

The billionaire tech entrepreneur also laid out a vision for space commercialization that stretches out for hundreds of years, leading to an era when millions of people would be living and working in space.

“I think space is chock full of resources,” Bezos told reporters. “This is all my view, and I’ll be dead before I’m proved wrong, so it’s a very safe prediction to make. But my view is that there will be a ‘Great Inversion.’”

Today, huge industrial complexes on Earth build components that are sent into space, at a cost of thousands of dollars per pound. Bezos foresees an inversion in that flow of goods. “We’ll make the microprocessors in space, and then we’ll send the little tiny bits to Earth,” Bezos said.

In the long term, Blue Origin could set the stage for moving heavy industries completely off Earth, leaving our planet zoned strictly for “residential and light industrial” use.

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