Main Engine Cut Off

Introducing the Main Engine Cut Off Shop

I’m excited to announce the launch of a brand new project: the Main Engine Cut Off Shop. This isn’t the typical “sell a t-shirt with your podcast logo on it” sort of project (though I do love me some podcast tees)—it’s an ever-growing collection of custom-designed products for space geeks like you and I.

Today, you’ll find two shirts and the long-awaited Rocket Socks. I’m working on a bunch of other products and ideas that will hit the store soon, so be sure to check back often (or follow me on Twitter) to keep up with new arrivals.

To pull back the curtain a bit, everything in the shop is printed on-demand. That means more freedom to create products (including incredibly quirky ones, like Rocket Socks), but it also means that it could take a few days to ship your order.

Head over to shop.mainenginecutoff.com and take a look.

Blue Origin Continues Lobbying NASA

Blue Origin’s Rob Meyerson Talks About Blue Moon

Credit: Alan Boyle

Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin, talked a bit more about their Blue Moon concept at the Space Symposium this week. Phillip Swarts, reporting for SpaceNews:

The lander, he said, would be part of a “space transfer and lunar lander architecture, leveraging Blue and NASA technologies,” he said. “Blue Moon directly leverages our New Shepard proven vertical takeoff and vertical landing technology, combined with our extensive liquid propulsion capabilities to reduce development time and risk.”

Blue Origin would be willing to invest in development of the Blue Moon system as part of a partnership with NASA, Meyerson said, envisioning regular delivery of resources and supplies to a potential lunar colony to augment NASA missions launched by the agency’s own Space Launch System.

Nothing much new there, but good to hear Blue Origin has an architecture in the works, not only a lander. The phrasing of this section is a bit confusing:

The proposed Blue Moon design would be optimized to fly on SLS, but could also launch aboard other rockets including United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 and Blue Origin’s own New Glenn rocket, he said.

If the lander is compatible with Atlas V, and “optimized to fly on SLS” is the phrase used by Meyerson, that must mean it fits within a 5-meter fairing and its mass would be 6,000 kilograms or less—the limit of a co-manifested payload on a crewed fight. No other configuration would be “optimized to fly on SLS” that would also keep it compatible with an Atlas V.

My gut says that I’m overthinking the comments here, and it’s all pure lobbying, especially if New Glenn was listed last. When you say “our payload can fly on SLS or any ULA vehicle,” several politicians’ ears perk up.

Jeff Bezos and Amazon Stock Sales

Yesterday at the Space Symposium, Jeff Bezos had some interesting comments on Blue Origin’s plans. At around the 23 minute mark of the video at the link:

My business model right now—this isn’t the future business model—but my business model right now for Blue Origin is I sell about a billion dollars a year of Amazon stock and I use it to invest in Blue Origin.

In the past few years, there have been some headlines about big stock sales made by Bezos. In November, 2013, Brian Solomon of Forbes reported a sale of exactly one million shares for more than $270 million:

The $270 million Bezos pocketed this week, along with stock sales scattered through earlier parts of 2013 that push his total take-home haul above $500 million, will help fund the billionaire’s growing list of extracurricular pursuits.

In August, 2015, Emily Parkhurst of the Puget Sound Business Journal reported another sale of just over one million shares, this time valued at $534 million. In that same article, Parkhurst mentions a 2014 sale of $351 million worth of Amazon stock.

Last May, Bezos sold yet another million shares for $671 million—the most money, by far, he has ever made in a single sale. And at that time, Amazon’s share price was around $680.

As I write this, it’s sitting around $900 per share.

One million shares sold today would bring in—you guessed it—just about a billion dollars.

And most importantly, Jeff Bezos still owns more than 80 million shares.

ULA Could Formally Select BE-4 Within Three Months

Jeff Foust, for SpaceNews:

Bruno said he was encouraged by tests of some key engine components, including the preburner, a smaller version of the main engine that powers the engine’s turbomachinery. “The good news is the preburner is running like a top,” he said. “We’re starting to get more and more confidence that we’re going to have a good experience when we run a full-scale engine.”

If the tests all go as planned, Bruno said ULA could be ready to formally select the BE-4 in as soon as 60 to 90 days. “But it could take longer,” he added. “It’s not on the calendar.”

Some interesting comments from Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin, too:

“We wanted to go into the test program hardware-rich,” he said. With those engines and other equipment at the test site, “we can move through the test program quite rapidly.” He said that testing would continue after ULA made its decision, with final certification of the BE-4 planned for late 2018 or early 2019.

Foust also talks at length about the independent non-advocate review teams established—one by ULA, one by Congress—to help make the decision. Worth a read.

Vulcan Aerospace Rebrands as Stratolaunch

Alan Boyle, for GeekWire:

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s space venture is rebranding itself and updating its website as it prepares to begin flight tests of the world’s biggest airplane. The venture was launched in 2011 as Stratolaunch Systems, but over time it morphed into Vulcan Aerospace, with Stratolaunch Systems as a subsidiary. Now it’s officially known as Stratolaunch, period.

Much cleaner structure—and a better name—for a solution I still don’t believe in much at all.

Interestingly, the rebrand frees up the “Vulcan” name in the aerospace field, at a time when there have been rumors of a potential rebrand for ULA.

Orbital ATK’s Last-Generation Launch Vehicle

Through commonality of hardware and other economies of scale, Orbital ATK’s proposed launch system will also reduce the cost of other U.S. Government rocket and missile programs managed by the Air Force, Navy, NASA and Missile Defense Agency, saving taxpayers up to $600 million on these programs over a ten-year period.

Seems like Orbital ATK’s PR editors removed the next sentence: “We’ll just need that money upfront, instead.”

Thanks to March Patrons

Very special thanks to the 48 of you out there supporting Main Engine Cut Off on Patreon for the month of March. Your support is much appreciated and helps me continually improve the blog and podcast by helping to cover infrastructure costs, gear upgrades, travel expenses for launches and conferences, and most importantly, to keep this independent.

And a huge thanks to the eight executive producers of Main Engine Cut Off: Pat, Matt, Brad, Jorge, Ryan, and three other anonymous executive producer. I could not do this without your support, and I am extremely grateful for it.

If you’re getting some value out of what I do here and want to send a little value back to help support Main Engine Cut Off, head over to Patreon and donate as little as $1 a month—every little bit helps. Or, if you’d rather help in a non-monetary way, tell a friend, post a link on Twitter, or in your favorite subreddit. Spreading the word is an immense help to an independent creator like myself.

T+44: SpaceX and the Age of Reusability

SpaceX made history this week by launching SES-10 with a previously-flown first stage. I discuss implications of this achievement, the things we learned from Elon Musk in the post-flight press briefing, and the doubters, as always.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 8 executive producers—Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, and three anonymous—and 41 other supporters on Patreon.

One More Step

Peter B. de Selding, Space Intel Report:

Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of the French space agency, CNES — who is worried enough about the SpaceX advance to have started a small reusable-rocket-engine program in Europe — agreed that what SpaceX did March 30 was “a breakthrough.” But he said the hard job is yet to come.

“After recovery, now the reuse,” Le Gall told the French financial daily, Les Echos. “The final step [for SpaceX] is cost reduction. Logically, if you reuse material, the cost should drop. But it all depends on the refurbishment cost. The day when a rocket can land and take off without interruption is not yet here, in my view.”

It was just a matter of time. I guarantee you those in Le Gall’s camp will think of at least one more step, and we’ll hear about it right after SpaceX’s next step.

Defects Found in Almost Every Russian Proton Rocket Engine

Matthew Bodner, The Moscow Times:

An investigation into quality control issues in the Russian space industry has discovered that nearly every engine currently stockpiled for use in Proton rockets is defective, the RIA Novosti news agency reported March 30, citing Igor Arbuzov, head of state rocket engine manufacturer Energomash.

71 engines, mostly used to power the second and third stages of the Proton rocket, require complete overhauls to remove defects. Arbuzov did not specify what was wrong with the engines. In January, Interfax reported on an investigation into high-quality metals swapped by a plant manager for cheaper alternatives.

Yikes.