Bezos’ space biz has admitted that the maiden flight of the New Glenn rocket, an orbital-class booster, will be put off again until Q4 2022 – and made it clear this was a result of US Space Force’s decision not to select the booster for the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 2 Launch Services Procurement (LSP). Without the government contract, that’s not enough demand or funding to keep that earlier flight time.
The first launch of the latest plaything for the multibillionaire Amazon boss had originally been set for 2020. Then the flight was delayed to 2021. And now 2022, in the absence of those sweet, sweet taxpayer dollars being sent Blue Origin’s way.
Named for US astronaut John Glenn, the New Glenn is a heavy lift booster, Blue Origin’s answer to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. Like the Falcon Heavy, the first stage is intended to return to Earth for reuse. Unlike the Falcon Heavy, however, New Glenn has yet to leave the ground, despite billions spent on facilities and infrastructure, including a rebuild of Florida’s LC-36.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The BE-4 engine intended for New Glenn should still see action by the end of this year, powering United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur to orbit.
I’ve got way too much cash, thinks Jeff Bezos. Hmmm, pay more tax? Pay staff more? Nah, let’s just go into space
Bezos is not the only moneyed wannabe space cowboy facing delays getting to space. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic slipped news into its latest set of loss-making financials that the next rocket-powered flight of the passenger-carrying SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity would not be until May 2021. The flight will be the first since the aborted test flight of December 2020 when a connection problem with the onboard computer halted ignition.
Virgin Galactic’s challenges do not end with getting its rocket lit. The carrier aircraft used to take VSS Unity to its drop altitude is also getting a little long in the tooth. The White Knight Two, aka VMS Eve, took its first flight in 2008, and Virgin Galactic has a “multi-month enhancement program” for it.
During the earnings call for the company presenting its results last night, Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier, told analysts an additional two test flights were planned for the summer and a flight for the Italian Air Force would conclude the testing programme by “early fall.” Once complete, the long-term maintenance for VMS Eve will begin ahead of passengers taking flight in 2022.
Despite teasing the arrival of SpaceShip III, which would be easier to maintain and turnaround, some analysts expressed alarm at yet another schedule slip. Particularly since, while New Glenn won’t be flying imminently, Blue Origin’s New Shepard could well carry its first human crew on a suborbital jaunt sooner rather than later. ®