Oh, I agree... I just don't get too excited about "suborbital". Yeah, I know they do a lot of good work there, with sounding rockets and all that, and suborbital flight predates orbital flight by a considerable amount of time. I know that BO is working on more than just the (IMHO) stupid "tourist" aspect of it. (Which considering what's happened in the decade(~ish~) since Scaled Composites "opened a new age in spaceflight" by winning the X-Prize with the SpaceShipOne (which is to say, LOTS more talk and VERY little action-- other than a few test flights of SS2 and a fatal crash, you don't hear hardly anything about it anymore), it basically verifies my impression of the entire "suborbital tourist" thing-- the "demand" is a mile wide-- but only an inch deep. IOW, there'll surely be a handful of "uber-rich" who'll sign up for the trips (and have by all accounts) but most people with the money to go will decide that snorting coke off a harem of hotties asses on some luxury yacht in Monaco or the French Riviera for a month is a MUCH better use of the money than 4 minutes of weightlessness... ESPECIALLY *WHEN* (not IF) one of the "tourist" suborbital flights pancakes into the floor of the Mohave (or elsewhere) at 250 mph... I agree, let the uber-rich finance the dreams of spaceflight and development-- after all, looking at both Blue Origin AND SpaceX, they've done more in a decade to advance the "state of the art" in spaceflight than NASA has done on the gubmint dole in the last 35 years. Because we ALL know how "efficient" the shuttle was, and how cutting edge it was (for 1974... about the only thing the shuttle was "efficient" at was burning through a billion bucks of taxpayer money a flight-- continuing to build and fly Saturn V's would have been cheaper and given at least 6X the payload capability on EVERY flight). NASA and gubmint are static, and the "big aerospace" contractors are SO addicted to gubmint contract handouts that they have NO motivation to "innovate" the way SpaceX and Blue Origin have. I'm glad they've "made it", because the decade of the 90's is littered with the bones of various space startup enterprises that were "strangled the cradle" by gubmint and big aerospace doing everything they could to keep them from succeeding (and of course the advancement of technology has certainly played a big part as well).
I'm thrilled Blue Origin has their contract to develop the BE-4 with Air Force money, so they can FINALLY replace the Russian RD-180's on Atlas V. That was a decision that made a certain amount of sense when they did it back in the 90's (when we were trying to keep the Russian space scientists from being thrown out of work and going and building advanced missiles for the "Axis of Evil" in North Korea and Iran) and the best technology in liquid propulsion in the world was available at bargain-basement prices, and when we were eager to help our new 'friend' Russia, but that was over 20 years ago. Times change. I said back when Russia first started getting 'adventurous' and made their little foray (invasion) of Georgia that the US was skating on thin ice by continuing to rely on Russian rocket engines for our main national security launch vehicle (the EELV Atlas V). We risked being "held hostage" by Russia, or having that source threatened as "leverage" against our opposition to their increasingly boisterous ambitions at "Russian resurgence" when we disapproved of their actions. Sure, they held enough engines in reserve to continue launches in the event the Russians cut the supply off, at least until *theoretically* the US could build copies of the Russian engines, but still... I'm SO glad that the idiots in Washington have *FINALLY* "seen the light" on that issue and decided to spend OUR TAX MONEY, not by exporting it to an increasingly hostile and belligerent Russia to support THEIR space and missile programs (which have ALWAYS been inextricably linked) but instead by spending it with AMERICAN companies like Blue Origin, to build ORIGINAL advanced new engine designs, rather than paying the fatcat "old space" aerospace contractors like Pratt and Whitney/Rocketdyne to build CLONES of the Russian engine design. Not that the Russian designs are BAD; far from it-- the Russians invested more in advanced engine development than we ever thought about, and it shows... It's just nice that we're FINALLY deciding to play "catch up" with the Russian advances in liquid propellant engine design and funding it RIGHT HERE AT HOME rather than abroad. Hopefully THIS time they actually fund something to COMPLETION and PRODUCTION, rather than just design, development, testing, and then MOTHBALLING like they've done with so many engine development projects I can't count anymore (but TR-107, RS-84, FASTRAC, STME, J-2X, etc.) BE-4 should be a TERRIFIC first-stage engine for a vehicle in the Falcon 9/EELV/Saturn IB class. If we had had a 500,000 lbs/thrust engine (like the E-1's, which were canceled when F-1 was developed) they could have turned Saturn IB (or a new single-tank stage core vehicle) into a much more capable rocket at lower cost by eliminating the large cluster of 8 H-1 engines in favor of 4 E-1's. BE-4 gives a similar capability to build a vehicle similar in capabilities to Falcon 9, but using a cluster of 4-5 BE-4 engines rather than 9 of the Merlins. (Of course this might present some special issues for a propulsive landing of such a rocket first stage ala Falcon 9, but nothing that can't be overcome... Falcon 9 uses 3 (IIRC) engines for its "reentry burn" to slow down and then the single center engine for the actual "hover to landing" engine... a four engine cluster in a Y configuration, while not as efficient from an engine arrangement standpoint, would still allow for a single-engine descent and landing... as would five engines in an "X" arrangement).
Having a reusable "sounding rocket" is a good thing... it makes the cost of suborbital payloads considerably less than that from expendable sounding rockets, as well as (perhaps) faster turn-around times for successive payloads, as well as returning the instruments in the payload intact (like telescopes, etc). This should allow a lot of payloads to fly that couldn't get sufficient funding before, as well as allow more (numerically and more rapid or frequent) observations by sophisticated instrument payloads (like telescopes) flown suborbitally on reusable vehicles since those payloads can return 'intact" and ready to fly again, rather than being "expended" after a single mission.
Hopefully BE-4 and Blue Origin will develop their own reusable first-stage orbital vehicle similar to Falcon 9... competition is a good thing. It's also good that BO has "broken new ground" by using methane as their propellant of choice-- kerosene has its advantages, but methane is also a good first stage propellant that has heretofore not been used in an "operational" system engine. Plus, it's not too difficult to modify an engine running on methane (LNG) to run on heavier "low cryogenic propellants" like propane or butane (LPG) which is somewhat easier to store and handle than LNG. Of course LNG is now being shipped commercially in specially designed supertankers, so most of the handling difficulties are probably a moot point now anyway... plus, it's a good match with LO2 as an oxidizer since their temperatures are closer together than LH2 or kerosene.
Interesting to be sure...
later! OL J R
My MUNIFICENCE is BOUNDLESS, Mr. Bond...