SpaceX, Blue Origin, and ULA make major progress in commercial megarocket space race - Thu 15 Aug 11:30 GMT

A new generation of space race is currently underway, but this time it’s not a race to determine which country will reach orbit first, but rather which spaceflight company will successfully reach orbit first with the world’s second generation of super-heavy l…

  While NASA and ULA are developing rockets featuring an expendable single core supported by solid rocket boosters, SpaceX and Blue Origin have developed reusable designs that will utilize an enormous single core booster powered by multiple engines.

  According to company CEO Elon Musk, the new rocket will be comprised of a massive booster deemed “Super Heavy”, featuring as many as 35 Raptor engines capable of producing a total of more than 70,000 kN (15.7M lbf) of thrust at liftoff.

  First and foremost, though, Blue Origin is developing BE-4 as the primary propulsion of the company’s own two-stage super heavy-lift rocket, known as New Glenn.

  Unintuitively, New Glenn will actually produce a full 33% less thrust than SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy (~23,000 kN or 5.1M lbf) at liftoff but will likely be able to crush Falcon Heavy’s performance to higher orbits while still in a reusable configuration.

  ULA’s next-generation Vulcan Heavy rocket will feature two such BE-4 engines but will be fully expendable for at least 4-6 years after its nominal 2021 launch debut.

  ULA will continue to lean on their well-worn preference for supplementing liquid propulsion with 2-6 strap-on solid rocket boosters (SRBs), adding as much as ~12,000 kN (2.7M lbf) to booster’s two BE-4s, themselves producing 4,800 kN (1.1M lbf) of thrust In its largest configuration, Vulcan Heavy will stand 69.2 m (227 ft) tall – just a tad shorter than Falcon 9 – and be capable of launch up to 15 tons (~33,000 lb) to GTO and 30.3 tons (67,000 lb) to LEO.

  Ultimately, this modern space race will hopefully benefit the spaceflight industry as a whole, particularly with respect to the introduction of New Glenn, hopefully giving SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 and Heavy rockets some real technological competition.