SpaceX vs Blue Origin – Which Philosophy is better?
– SpaceX is the most well known namein the private spaceflight industryand needs little introduction. It was founded by dotcombillionaire Elon Musk in 2002,with the goal of makinghumanity multi-planetary. They have repeatedly madeambitious development claimsand stunned the worldby delivering upon it. Two years before that, however,in the year 2000, Jeff Bezos,founded a private spaceflightcompany called Blue Origin,with the goal of enablingmillions of peopleto live and work in space. The technologies being developedby these companies seemto largely overlap,but they are just very similar answersto two very different questions. Today we’ll be lookingat these differencesin their approach to spaceflight. Hi everyone, TJ herefor I need more space. In each episode of this seriesI’m going to take twocomponents of spaceflightand compare them to one another. Hopefully, we both learnhow they came to beand get a betterunderstanding of the storyof space’s past and future. In this video, we’regoing to cover the originsand motivations betweenboth SpaceX and Blue Origin. Let’s jump in. – Seven, six, five- First stationengine sequence intiation- Four, three, two – On the 20th of September, 2008,SpaceX’s Falcon 1 became thefirst privately-developedliquid-fuel launch vehicle to reach orbit,on its fourth launch attempt. Blue Origin, almost a decade later,still hasn’t gotten there,and this draws them a lot of criticismfrom the spaceflight community. It makes absolutely nosense at first glance. Between 2002 and 2019,SpaceX has developed a smallsat launcher,developed an orbital workhorse rocketwhile also being one ofthe cheapest launcherson the market,vertically landed theboosters of said rocket,re-flown them multiple times,and dropped its launch cost even further. They developed a cargo resupply spacecraftfor the ISS,and a crewed variantfor orbital spaceflight,developed the largestrocket currently operationaland shot it into a heliocentric orbit. Still not over that. Developed the world’s firstFull Flow Staged Combustion enginefor their fully reusableinterplanetary spaceship capableof carrying 100 tonsto the Martian surfaceand crews of up to 100 people. Meanwhile, Blue Originhas only managed to fly,propulsively land, and re-flya suborbital booster-capsule systemcalled New Shepard for space tourists. However they have nearlyfinished developmenton a massive semi-reusableorbital launch vehiclecalled New Glenn,which absolutely dwarfstheir first rocket,designed a lunar lander called Blue Moon,planned a biconic crew capsule,which they proposed forcommercial crew phase one,and possibly even a spaceplane called the New Lindberghin the far future. So, what’s going on here?Why has SpaceX seemedto make so much more progress than Blue?They both hire from the same talent poolof incredibly talented aerospace engineersand they even poach them from one another. So it makes no sense for themto have barely anything to show for it. Well, it’s intentional. Blue Origin’s design philosophyhas been Gradatim Ferociter,or Step by Step Ferociously. SpaceX sprints through their development,constantly tweaking their designsto the extent that no twoFalcon 9 cores are identical. They always have some newhardware being tested. Developing an orbital class rocket engineis one of the hardestengineering challenges knownto our species. It is incredibly resource intensive,requires a ton of auxiliary infrastructuresuch as test stands,and has no guarantee of successbecause of the unique waysin which it pushes mechanics,thermodynamics and material sciencesinto their physical limits. SpaceX has had a very hard time fundingand developing their Merlinengine by themselves. Developing it from scratchwas near impossible,but SpaceX does theimpossible all the time. So they adapted NASA’s Fastrac engine,originally developed for thereusable X-34 space planeinto the Merlin 1A. This engine was verydifferent from the Merlin 1Dthat flies on the Falcon 9 Block 5 today. SpaceX didn’t even build theturbo pump assembly for it. Instead it was outsourced toone of the original developersof the Fastrac, Barber-Nichols. Over the next few years,SpaceX developed the Merlinwith incredible testing regimen. They would fire the engineat the McGregor Facilitywith new optimisationsuntil something broke,failed, melted, or cracked. Then they would relaythe data to Hawthorne,order the fixes and replacements,and torture it on their test stands again. This has turned their Merlininto one of the best Keroloxengines in existence. It has the highest thrust to weight ratioof any liquid rocket engine. Also being able to relight,survive supersonic reentry,and land the Falcon 9 boosterswith consistent precision. Because of the same development,the Falcon 9’s payloadcapacity more than doubled,from 10. 4 megatons on the first versionto 22. 8 megatons on the Block 5. They are very reliableand there is just one incidentof them shutting down in flight,on the Commercial Resupply One Missionwhich still completed successfully. All of this,on an engine that they hadnot designed themselves. This represents the best of SpaceXand the reason for theirabsolute superiorityin the launch industry. They took the engine theycould afford to developand honed it into becoming oneof the best in the industry. The same engine poweredtrailblazing Falcon 1,their workhorse for the Falcon 9,and the colossal Falcon Heavy. This earned them theCRS contracts from NASA,which were essential to SpaceX’s survivalin its early days. It brought on theirmost important clients. Iridium, SES, NROL, foreign governments,and private satellites. This provided them withthe capital they neededto survive and continue developingtowards their goal ofinterplanetary spaceflight. Blue on the other handbelieves that “Slow issmooth, and smooth is fast. “They take large, calculateddevelopment steps,three at a time. The design choices they makeare deliberate and strategic. Consider the New Shepard. It is a suborbital boosterthat carries crew and lands vertically. It uses hydrogen as its main propellant. This sounds like anabsolutely awful decisionat first glance. Hydrogen is very difficult to work with. Its only advantage isthat it has the highest vacuum efficiencyof any liquid propellant,which is wasted as itsentire launch profileis within the Earth’s atmosphere. Hydrogen has a tendency toleak through the tank wallsof the booster because ofits smaller atomic sizeand light the exterior on fire,which makes it unsuitablefor carrying crew. Hydrolox engines are heavier than mostand hence have poorthrust to weight ratio,a factor which is very importantfor vertical propulsive landings. Hydrolox is more difficult to throttlebecause of its lower density,which also makes landing it harder. So why would Blue pick Hydroloxout of all the propellant options?Well because you can makeit out of lunar ice depositsvia In-Situ Resource Utilization. Wait, what?The New Shepard can’t even getto lower earth orbit by itself. What does the Moon haveanything to do with it?Okay, let’s look at theNew Shepard booster. Now imagine that theLH2 tank gets replacedby a massive spherical one,and the liquid oxygen tanks gets splitinto two attached around the sides. Isn’t that basically the Blue Moon landerwith a crew descent stage on top?Blue Origin build thetechnologies they requiredfor their lunar lander,while also developinga space tourism vehiclethat will generate revenue. The engine they developed for this vehiclewill be reused as the superefficient second stage enginesfor New Glenn. It’s honestly a genius move. Blue Origin has also built somevery strategic partnerships,both in the industry and politically. While SpaceX preferstight, vertical integrationand developing everything in-house,Blue Origin is willing to collaboratewith legacy industry. Blue’s BE-4 engine will be the main engineon United Launch Alliance’snext generation Vulcan rocket. The Blue Moon lander can be launchedwith a variety of rocketsapart from New Glenn,including the Space LaunchSystem, Vulcan, or Atlas V. When NASA solicited a crewlunar lander for Artemis,they quickly partneredwith Lockheed Martin,Northrop Grumman, and Draperto make a very strong bid. They also worked with Maxaron the Gateway’s powerand propulsion element, and interestingly,Blue’s Low Earth OrbitSpace Station conceptshowed a very similar module on top,suggesting further collaboration. While SpaceX picked the locationsof the manufacturing at Hawthorne,testing at McGregor, Texas,and launch sites at the Cape basedon feasibility, affordabilityand convenience,Blue’s recent moves have beenmore politically motivated. They have their HQ inKent, a suburb of Seattle,which is home to Amazon,and they fly New Shepard from West Texas. But, now, here’s the interesting part. They picked Cape Canaveralto manufacture their New Glenn rocketsand leveraged Florida’sSpace Coast subsidies. They are also building anengine production facilityin Huntsville, Alabama, whichis politically significantfor spaceflight policy. It is homeof United Launch Alliance’smanufacturing facilityand NASA Marshall Space Flight Center,where they will test their enginesfor both the New Glenn and Vulcan. This represents the coredistinction between SpaceXand Blue Origin, and it is aproduct of their upbringing. See, when Elon founded SpaceX,it nearly used up all the capital he had. SpaceX had to scramble to get customersand contracts if theywere going to survive,let alone develop anything else. This turned them into an incredibly agileand efficient company thatiterates their designsas well as their plans constantly. This is clearly indicated byStarship’s development process,which has fundamentally changed the designin every possible waywhile still being true to its purpose,a fully reusable Superheavy-lift launch vehiclecapable of taking crew andcargo to the Martian surface. Blue, on the other hand,has had no such constraints. Bezos graciously sells $1billion of his Amazon stockand leaves a neat pile of cashat the factory’s doorstep every year. Stable funding is guaranteed,and no one’s in a hurry to grab contracts. They can take their timeto build incredibly robustsystem infrastructuresand will support their plans for decades. It is the reasonwhy their first orbital rocketisn’t a smallsat launcherbut a behemoth with a seven meter coreand height comparable to the Saturn V. Oh, and Bezos casually mentionedthat this is the smallestorbital launch vehiclethey’ll ever build. So, now we can clearly seewhy SpaceX and Blue Origin taketheir respective approaches. But what are they doing it for?Why do they choose to go to space?Why does Kent play Hawthorne?- Why does Rice play Texas?- That’s my terrible JFK impression. Sorry. SpaceX has a very clear goal. To make humans multi-planetary. We are the only sentientlife form we are aware of,stuck here on the pale blue dot. Over the past century,humanity has grown to a scalewhere our individual actionshave measurable effectson the entire planet. Climate change, nukes,bio-weapons, AI, who knows. This is an existentialrisk, and the probabilityof our extinction will be much lowerif we can haveself-sustaining civilizationson multiple planets in the Solar System. Elon believes that it is uncertainhow long the window toachieve this would be open. Therefore we must do our bestto establish a backupcivilization on another planet. The only feasible option being Mars. The minimum number of resources requiredfor a self-sustainingcivilization on Mars works outto be about one million people,along with a massive amountof cargo, raw materials,structures, supplies,and equipment manufactured on Earth. To accomplish thiswith traditional rocketssimply isn’t possible,which is why SpaceX is focusedon developing Starship,to transport 100 Mars settlers at a timealong with supplementary cargo missions. Blue Origin has differentplans and motivations. They stress on the fact thatthis planet is irreplaceable. No other place in the Solar Systemcan provide a better place to sustain lifethan Earth itself. However they do acknowledgethat it is finite. We are reaching the limits of the materialand energy resources,and damaging this planetin the process. Blue Origin’s solutioninvolves moving heavy industryinto space and turning Earthinto sort of a national park for humansand the rest of the biodiversity. It is also essential thathumanity keeps growing. In the far future,even the Earth as a wholecannot support a populationof trillions of people. This is where Jeff Bezos’grandest vision comesinto the picture,enabling O’Neill colonies. O’Neill is known for questioningwhy humans must live on planetary surfacein the first place,and for his designs ofmassive rotating citiesin their orbits. This has a vast amount of advantagesand is much broadertopic for another time. Bezos was absolutelyfascinated by the ideaand even discussed it inhis graduation speech. Jeff Bezos acknowledgesthat the gargantuan rotating space citieswon’t happen in his lifetime. Instead he hopesto create the infrastructureit would require for future generationsof entrepreneurs to make this a reality. He likens it to the internet,the postal delivery network,and banking system that hewas able to build Amazon upon,and would like to solve someof the barriers to spaceflight access,so that the humans of the futurecan develop the new frontier. This involves reducing the cost of launch,making the use of asteroidresources feasible,and accessing the lunar ice depositsto fuel a colossal cislunar economycapable of bringingsuch visions to reality. So, we have spent this videoestablishing the differencesbetween Blue Origin and SpaceX. Let’s leave it off on a noteabout something they share,a firm belief that humanityisn’t confined to this planet. They are both committing the drive,resources, and talent we requireto solve the major barriersto spaceflight access. These companies are at the forefrontof a new wave of private spaceflight,and they are taking some veryinteresting approaches to it. So, who do you think has a better visionfor the future of human space settlement?Is it SpaceX’s Marshabitats, terraforming,multi-planetary spaceships,or Blue Origin’s visionof preserving Earthas a natural parkby moving factories into spaceand building sprawling space citiesfrom off-world resources?Let me know in the poll above. Let’s have a discussion discussionin the comments sectionabout other distinctionsin the approaches takenby Blue and SpaceX. What did I miss?Also, I just really wantto do a quick tease,that I have started a store,INeedMore. Space/Shop or /Store. Both work. I’ve got some shirts on here,and just some cooldesigns I think you guyswould really enjoy. So thanks for watching. Hope you follow me on social media. I’m at TJ_Cooney on Twitter. I just post random photosand videos about spaceflightand the history of spaceflightI find interesting. Just really hope you consider subscribingand join me on this adventure. All right, thanks guys,and I’ll see you next time. Bye.