Blue Origin test fires its new BE-3 hydrogen/oxygen rocket engine

Blue Origin test fires its new...
Test firing of the BE-3 hydrogen/oxygen rocket engine that took place on Nov. 20, 2013 (Photo: Blue Origin)
Test firing of the BE-3 hydrogen/oxygen rocket engine that took place on Nov. 20, 2013 (Photo: Blue Origin)
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Test firing of the BE-3 hydrogen/oxygen rocket engine that took place on Nov. 20, 2013 (Photo: Blue Origin)
Test firing of the BE-3 hydrogen/oxygen rocket engine that took place on Nov. 20, 2013 (Photo: Blue Origin)

NASA announced on Tuesday that Blue Origin had successfully test fired its new BE-3 hydrogen/oxygen rocket engine at the company’s West Texas facility in Van Horn. The test, which took place on November 20, was a series of static firings to simulate the engine sequence of an actual suborbital flight from lift off to landing and is part of the development of Blue Origin’s manned Orbital Launch Vehicle for carrying passengers and cargo into low Earth orbit.

During the test, the BE-3 engine was fired for 145 seconds to simulate a launch, reaching 110,000 lbs of thrust, It then “coasted” for four minutes on the static test stand before firing again for one minute to simulate a vertical landing maneuver with the engine throttled down to 25,000 lbs of thrust.

The November test follows on from a series of static firings previously carried out last year at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. According to NASA, developing the engine is especially difficult because it must operate under temperatures ranging from that of liquid hydrogen’s -423º F (-253º C) to 6,000º F (3,315º C) when firing.

The BE-3 is notable as the first new liquid hydrogen engine since the RS-68 engine for the Delta IV booster went into service in 2002. The BE-3 is part of a Reusable Booster System, which will allow the spacecraft to fly again rather than be disposed off after one mission, as is the case with the Russian Soyuz.

The Kent, Washington-based Blue Origin is a partner in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP), which is helping with the engine’s development as well as reviewing the Orbital Launch Vehicle’s design. Blue Origin is one of several private companies developing low-Earth orbit spacecraft for NASA.

"Working with NASA accelerated our BE-3 development by over a year in preparation for flight testing on our New Shepard suborbital system and ultimately on vehicles carrying humans to low-Earth orbit," says Rob Meyerson, president and program manager of Blue Origin. "The BE-3 is a versatile, low-cost hydrogen engine applicable to NASA and commercial missions."

Source: NASA

The Skud
And best of all, no kerosenes were killed to make the fuel!
David Clarke
The best thing about liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen rockets is that the exhaust is totally bio friendly: water vapour. The article mentions the variation in heat between liquid hydrogen and the working temperature. However, I often wonder how much of the engine actually gets hot. Does the combustion take place inside the nozzle, or just on the periphery? The solid boosters of the Shuttle were particularly polluting.
Expanded Viewpoint
Yeah, and all of those teeny tiny little Hydrogen and Oxygen molecules that will be used for propellants grow on trees and then fall down to the ground, just waiting for us to pick up and put to use, right?? When oh WHEN will people wake up to the fact that you can't just substitute in some pie-in-the-sky wishful dreaming (I'd never give it an air of legitimacy by calling it actual thinking!) and everything will come out as hoped and planned!! SOME form of energy was and will be needed to get and transport the Hydrogen and Oxygen, right? What will it be? And where did IT come from and how? It's the same way with the history of nuclear power; more KWh/BTUs from petroleum products were consumed in the build up of the nuke industry than were provided by the nuke plants themselves during their life cycle!! This came out of an energy audit done on the nuke industry in the early 90s. Translated for the dull knives in the drawer; we'd have been better off by just burning the petroleum as fuel to generate electricity, and left out the dangers of nuke plant accidents like Chernobyl, Fukushima and TMI.
Ian McIntosh
@ Randy, 7-10 years is the estimated time for a nuclear power plant to repay the energy required for it's construction. incidentally roughly the same a coal fired power plant.....
However as the paper shows, the problem is not the construction, but the mining of fuel - Uranium is rare and hard to get. Currently available uranium ore bodies remain efficient - they still contribute less CO2 per kilowatt hour over the life of the plant than a fossil fuel plant - but that efficiency will drop as good ore bodies are exhausted and more rock needs to be mined per kg of refined fuel produced.
This assumes three things: 1. That fast breeder reactors are not used 2. That technology does not advance beyond current plant designs 3. The power used to mine the uranium is sourced from fossil fuels.
Expanded Viewpoint
The real problem with using petroleum and coal products as a fuel is the gasses [other than CO2] that result from it, like Sulfur dioxide and particulate Mercury and other poisonous metals that are released into the air we breathe. Petroleum is not a fossil fuel, that was proven back in the 80s when someone happened to check on some oil wells in Pennsylvania that had been declared to be dry and had been capped off for FIFTY YEARS, were suddenly found to be full of crude oil again! WHERE did it come from?? Did Gaia decide to create some more crude oil? If nuke plants have an estimated life span of 20-25 years (not including the decommissioning costs and time involved) as SONGS Unit 1, then about half of it is needed to just reach a break-even point, right? Or is my math off somehow? SCE had to shut down SONGS Units 2 and 3 due to too many problems with bringing them up to specs again. Those units didn't run their full life cycle, did they? But yet they're slated to be dismantled because they can't be used anymore. Except as an explicit lesson in stupidity for our heirs. When you factor in ALL of the costs incurred with nuke plants, they are just too great to bear.
@ Randy Just because oil that was in low permeability rock seeped into the high permeability rock "refilling" the wells does not mean that oil in not a fossil fuel.
Why didn't you use the Fort Saint Vrain nuclear power plant Its pay back was worse because of a screwy design (helium cooled graphite core). new designs would do much better. especially if they build the concrete containment vessel to last for centuries with a door big enough to remove and replace the reactor core when it wears out.
Jim Sadler
How efficient is a hydrogen-oxygen rocket compare to a hydrogen peroxide - oxygen rocket? Which is more difficult to handle or control?