To start a clash with SpaceX, Blue Origin launches secret project Jarvis

According to sources in late May, on several social media sites frequented by space enthusiasts, a rumor about Blue Origin’s large rocket, New Glenn, broke out. According to rumors, Blue Origin changed the main structural material of its new rocket from aluminum alloy to stainless steel. 

The posts on social media generated considerable interest because it hinted that the company would imitate the material choices of competitors-Spacex’s Starship and Super Heavy rockets are mainly made of stainless steel. In addition, this change also heralds the further delay of the New Glenn development project, which has been behind schedule by several years.  

Some sources even says this rumors is false. New Glenn did not replace its first grade with stainless steel. 

Blue origin project
Blue origin project

However, in subsequent reports, foreign media discovered the truth about the rumors of stainless steel and the blue origin rocket. Three sources confirmed to Ars that Blue Origin has begun to develop a fully reusable upper platform for New Glenn, which may use stainless steel propellant tanks.

The main goal of this change is to reduce the overall launch cost of the New Glenn rocket. The large upper stage of the rocket has a diameter of 7 meters and is equipped with two BE-3U engines. The cost is very high. The founder of Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos, is looking for ways to make the entire rocket more economical.  

An industry source familiar with the reusable previous stage plan said: “This is the difference between profit and loss when the new Glenn is launched.”

Jarvis project

This reusable second-level project seems to be inspired by stainless steel not only from SpaceX. By making the first and second stages of New Glenn fully reusable, Bezos is emulating Musk’s ambitious plan to reuse super-heavy boosters and Starship’s superiors.

In 2016, when Musk officially announced the Starship project (called ITS or Interplanetary Transport System at the time), many people in the industry expressed doubts about his plan to build a large-scale, reusable launch system. In early 2019, after Musk announced that the main structure of the rocket was changed from carbon fiber to low-cost stainless steel, they remained skeptical.

Although stainless steel is cheaper and more resistant to atmospheric heating when it re-enters the atmosphere, it is about 5 times heavier than composite materials.  

The source said that Bezos has been asking his senior staff about the possibility of reusing their superiors, but the consultant told him that this method is unlikely to work. Bezos also seems to have been told that SpaceX’s rapid prototyping and testing of Starship’s “failure forward” and lack of processes and procedures seems unlikely to succeed. 

But in the past year, when SpaceX launched and landed its Starship, Bezos noticed this. This is one of the reasons why he decided to start a project called “Jarvis” in Blue Origin, which is a reusable secondary project. The source said that Bezos has isolated part of the secondary development project from the rest of Blue Origin and told its leaders to innovate in an environment that is not restricted by strict management and document processes.

The Jarvis project is progressing quickly-apparently named after the character Jarvis in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The initial tank test will be conducted on the stainless steel hardware at Blue Origin’s plant in Florida as early as this fall.

If this method proves to be feasible, further tests will be carried out next. At least for the time being, the company’s plan is to launch a new Glenn with a consumable level-2 before transitioning to a fully reusable superior in the mid-2020s. This fully reusable launch system is now seen as the key to competing with SpaceX to launch large payloads.  

It is not clear how much budget Bezos allocated for the Jarvis project, nor is it clear whether the project manager reports directly to Bezos or Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith.

other projects

In addition to launching rockets, Blue Origin seems to pay more attention to space activities. According to sources, Bezos recently approved two other major projects, one related to space propulsion, and the other focused on developing and demonstrating in-situ resource utilization technologies on the moon and other places.  

A source revealed that for resource projects, Blue Origin almost overnight formed the best space resource team in the industry. The company hired Vlada Stamenkovic, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to lead the team, as well as several other key personnel. The goal of this project is to enable humans to live on the moon more sustainably and develop resources there to benefit life on Earth. 

In addition, Blue Origin also hired Austin Murnane as its senior legal counsel this month. Murnane was a former lawyer at Latham & Watkins Law Firm in New York, and has expertise in the legal aspects of space resources. His background suggests that Blue Origin may raise the view that space resources do not belong to anyone, and that the company may request ownership of resources on the moon and other places.

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