SpaceX Almost Has 100 Orbital Launches But Blue Origin is Just Suborbital

A little over a year ago, I was at an event where there was a panel of people from various space startups and space investment funds. They asked the panel if they believed more in SpaceX or Blue Origin. Remarkably, two of the panelists actually said they had greater belief in Blue Origin. I feel that statement was insane. The way to measure rocket companies is how many times they successfully launch and launching sub-orbital is a hundred tiem

Blue Origin has had 12 flights that barely made it over 60 miles in altitude.

Blue Origin was founded in 2000 and SpaceX was founded in 2002. SpaceX should have its 100th orbital launch this month.

The Rocket Lab Electron rocket is more successful in my opinion than Blue Origin. Electron has flow to orbit three times in 2020. Rocket Labs is working on recovering and reusing their first stage booster.

Blue Origin has been working on the BE-4 engine. A BE-4 engine was delivered to United Launch Alliance for testing. ULA would use the BE-4 for its Atlas V and Vulcan rockets. Seven BE-4 engines would be on the booster stage of the Blue Origin New Glenn Rocket. 2021, is supposed to be a big year for Blue Origin and the BE-4. Supposedly there will be tests flights with ULA and a New Glenn flight. We will see if those happen on schedule.

The SpaceX competition is China with 26 successful orbital launches in 2020 versus about 16 for SpaceX. Europe has four launches (Ariane and Vega rockets). Russia has had 11 launches.

SOURCES- Wikipedia, Blue Origin, SpaceX
Written By Brian Wang,

54 thoughts on “SpaceX Almost Has 100 Orbital Launches But Blue Origin is Just Suborbital”

  1. Blue Origin will have methane rocket engines on two commercial orbital vehicles in 2021 (Vulcan and New Glenn).

    The real question is how many rocket launchers do you need for so little spaceflight demand. Worldwide there is usually less than 100 rocket launches per year.

    The only way there's going to be a significant increase in rocket launches from Earth is if there is a substantial increase in crew launches and crew related launches to habitats in Earth orbit and on the surface of the Moon.

    But I've heard very little from the industry about the deployment of extraterrestrial habitats so far.

  2. Beamed power SSTO comes to mind as about the only way to beat SpaceX. Lots of DoD $ making ever more powerful lasers would mean that in about 15 years they will be viable.

    Still 15 years is like 30 years in Musk time or 300 years in NASA time.

  3. I'm impressed by some of the accomplishments of BO but not getting a rocket into a full orbit kinda becomes a deal breaker. Sub-orbital is useless unless you're a space tourist wanting to check an entry off your bucket list.

    A few years ago I expected BO to pass up S-X because of Jeff Bezos' deep pockets. But much like the auto industry, Elon has caught the space industry with their pants down. Even if Bezos were to make incredible strides today and match Elon's progress, S-X already has the name recognition. I wouldn't trust my satellite to Bezos.

    Add to the fact that Elon is now around the 7th wealthiest man in the world (and climbing) and you can see that Bezos' deep pockets won't be a factor. All the money in the world can't buy what Elon does, but what Elon does CAN buy all the money in the world. He's irreplaceable.

    In a few years, there may or may not be some innovation at BO worth selling to S-X. Otherwise BO has completely missed the window.

    EDIT: Musk is currently the 5th wealthiest man. My information was from a few weeks ago.

  4. Indeed. And space launcher/travelling technologies are far from being perfected.

    They were mostly stationary for a long time due to the very high entry barrier of making a space launcher (vey expensive and complex, with high risks and not ensured ROI) and the limits of public spending, which ended up producing a bureaucratic caste/jobs program around the whole industry.

    As I mentioned before: space launchers and spaceships aren't a primary necessity. They could be as bad and expensive as they were for a long, long time and still fulfill their societal useful roles (e.g. satellites, science probes), and we would be none the worse from it. In the short to midterm, at least.

    It required a conscious effort to break through all the establishment that kind-of-worked and try to innovate again.

  5. [3]More broadly, we need to see that population is not the main first issue, rather the *Physics* of industry, and technology. O'Neill presents the *laws of Physics* for material tech, and shows why we struggle to support ourselves on Earth, to Earth's detriment. If we are not going to live entirely *in Nature*, we have already decided to live in Space, altho only a few of us realize this now. "The ratio of infrastructure to population on Mars is a lot lower than for an O'Neill colony, and that matters in your initial efforts." Take the Mars colony, for ANY population size, remove the stuff needed for it to be on a planet, make energy easy, materials easy to move and process, on and on, and it will be LESS! The mere ability to move the habitat parts around, reconfigure and recombine them makes them better than Mars stuff, which is just there once built, not easily changed or reused. How do you make $$ on Mars?

  6. [2] Gravity. Utterly, totally disagree. There are 4 kinds of gravity. 0 g,
    low g, 1 g and high g. 0 g is good for growing crystals, alloys etc. Low
    g, lunar at max, we can mimic current industry, but much lighter equipment, yet stuff still pours and stays in containers, water flows downhill, stuff stays on tables, etc. 1 g for health, but otherwise useless. All of these are incidental structural efforts, compared to air pressure. I will admit planet gravity helps contain air pressure, if you pile stuff on top a balloon, the balloon can be weak. Similar to storing H underwater, pressure supplied. But that work, or digging a tunnel, seems comparable to building in Space a stronger balloon. High g only really works in 0 g, as the 'fuge support bearing will show eventually. Not a pretty sight. You can only increase the g on a planet , and it is hard. All such g things are easy in Space, can be close to each other, and variable. One of O'Neill's main themes is how gravity can get you down.

  7. I was not saying we cannot live near planets, but that we need not. In fact, being scattered about seems far superior as to the "real off-site backup" need, clearly, if by numbers alone. One Mars v multiple O'Neill Settlements. You are correct in first two paras, that, for ISM, asteroid material is better than *big* planet launched stuff, esp if planet has atmos. Very hard to launch! In this mining regard, I consider our Moon to be an asteroid, sort of, but that is influenced by how close and easy it is. Cislunar to start. So are TCOs, and some NEOs are pretty easy. We need to be able handle them for planetary defense anyway, so the path is clear. Plenty to get started. No planet launch needed, after ISRU set up. The main thing scarce as far materials in Space is the things that are small enuf for us to use without breaking apart. They are not *actually* scarce, just too small for us to see *yet*. We *know* they are out there, as they keep hitting our atmos. But that is not the big question, which is about planetary (the Earth's or Mars') surface being the right place. [on to 2, not enuf "Space"]

  8. Look, empty space has a lot of useful properties, but one thing it seriously lacks is material resources to do things with. Planets are big piles of resources. So even if you build in space, doing it by them is attractive.

    Personally, I'm an asteroid booster. Same resources, and much more accessible.

    But one massive advantage planets have is *gravity*, and while you can create it by spinning a habitat, that's infrastructure expensive. IF and that's a big if, 0.38G is enough for human health, all you really need for a habitat on Mars is a big balloon. The ratio of infrastructure to population on Mars is a lot lower than for an O'Neill colony, and that matters in your initial efforts.

    Eventually O'Neill colonies are likely to dominate, because they're more scalable. But it's simply easier to build a viable, self-sufficient colony on Mars, than to do the same in an O'Neill habitat. Nature has done a lot of your work for you.

  9. Sure, that tortoise will eventually rack up more miles than the long dead hare, but the hare's descendants will keep widening the gap in favor of hares.

  10. While I totally agree with you on what is the lesson in the hare and tortoise myth I would like to point out that on purely biological terms tortoises live hundreds of years (compared to 3-5 years for hares) so in the end the cumulative lifelong mileage is higher for the tortoise 🙂

  11. Why do they have to be around planets???!!! Chauvinism is defined partially as assuming things w/o even thinking about them. Is the surface of a planet the right place for an expanding technological civilization? Why not ten times further out than Neptune, in any direction from the Sun, as lightsails would provide the energy even at that distance.

  12. The thing about Musk's obsession with Mars is his fear of an earthbound catastrophe might affect everything within Terrestrial sphere of influence, so establishing space colonies in Earth orbit won't do; you'd have to have O'Neill cylinders in Venerean or Martian orbit to give humanity a real off-site backup, and that is probably a good deal more expensive (not to mention hard) than having a basket on Mars.

  13. Of course, the suborbital alone would not justify NS, but has been good for testing landing in particular. I would almost go with the tourist balloon at lower height but for much longer time view than ballistic suborbital. I liked old 50s prop airlines better than today's jets because you could see better. Lower, but less smog too? I was initially surprised at the interest in seeing the Earth, having assumed everybody would be looking at the dark sky astronomy when they got into Space. It will be interesting to see if *normal* people get bored, and what they get bored with. Ideally, everybody comes back from BO, VG, Neptune suborbital with the same "overview" that early orbital people got, and become influential.

  14. But, seriously, who cares about suborbital, except thrill seeking millionaires? And they'll drop suborbital like a hot potato once they can go to orbit.

  15. I'm going with the notion that the lack of NS launches is seen as an "urgency" problem in this post, altho not as big as the lack of orbital launches of any kind. So, for there to be no reason for further NS qua 3rd stage tests that are avail is an alternate explanation for there to be no such tests. They are *finished* testing, for now, not disinterested. And, even by your definition, *finished* and ready for virus free suborbital passengers.

  16. They don't compete with each other inside China, but I suppose they potentially could outside China… For customers stupid enough to assume their satellite wouldn't crash on launch after being looted of any proprietary tech.

  17. Actually, there is a BO spin off that specializes in second stage reuse tech. Starship is a different idea, keeping the second stage with the payload, actually helping with reentry. New Glenn is designed to be crew rated from the outset, I'm pretty sure, so they will have a significant advantage there until SS qualifies for crew. SS for cargo sounds unbeatable. D. Drake's comments about Musk make a lot more sense if the "without the erratic melodramas." is understood to be a spot on description of Musk's irrational Mars ideas. Bezos understands O'Neill.

  18. It's been tested as much as it can be in isolation. Which is to say, not nearly enough to claim that it's a finished product.

  19. Seems like rotovators could have a central flywheel as I imagine any rotating habitat or whatever could have, to balance precession and store momentum. Stuff being dropped to the Earth would power the thing back up, a giant "dumb waiter".

  20. O'Neill's question is profound, as the answer controls so much. But that is my perspective, having gone to serving the O'Neill Kool Aid. I often check out the SpaceX Starship monitoring site, and the popularity of going to Mars to die is astounding! The general popularity of having a base ON the Moon is suddenly great. But the orbital facilities, where the important stuff can actually be done, ISM, seem to still be an afterthought, rather than a destination. Makes all the difference in the World, even the definition of "World".

  21. I'm certainly not complaining about cheaper rockets! I'm just saying that in the 70s we had sufficient rockets to start ISM/ISRU much as we are starting to now, O'Neill's "bootstrapping". The rockets are not the problem, our plans were/are.

  22. No, in business, unless you're in an established industry where nothing is changing anymore, everything IS a race, and if you're not advancing the engineering, you're losing ground.

    It's true that any dependable launch provider that can match SpaceX prices will get customers, but ask yourself: How do they do that?

    They do that by having the technology, and having enough flight hours to wring out all the problems.

  23. Even getting bulk materials from the moon, you need rockets to launch manufactured things *to* the moon, and to your O'Neill colonies. Mining equipment, mass drivers, factories, etc. Everything is cheaper with cheaper rockets.

  24. Even if BO succeeds on schedule, they'll be rolling out a Falcon Heavy competitor just when SpaceX gets the fully-reusable, heavier-lifting Starship/Superheavy.

  25. Yes, NASA was all about Mars, until recently. Now NASA is also about O'Neill, with Mars as a later option amongst many that O'Neill thinking opens up. Restating Musk's Mars obsession does not make it profitable, or the best thing to do. In fact, forget Mars!

  26. "However, you must remember that until quite recently the *Gateway* was a place to assemble Earth launched and fueled Mars ships."

    In NASA's vision of how to get to Mars, anyway. Musk is planning on getting to Mars by launching from an elliptical Earth centered orbit. I personally think he should consider going to rotovator use fairly early on, but that ideally requires a massive momentum bank.

  27. The lesson of the tortoise and hare isn't that the slower runner usually wins. It's that the faster runner can't slack off.

    In this case it's a speed obsessed hare who's been training hard vs a tortoise with good stamina, but in no particular hurry. That doesn't go well for the tortoise.

  28. The two individuals who see BO as the more capable? And there boys and girls is why you shouldn't smoke crack.

  29. The criticism of Blue Origin is fair. They started two years before SpaceX and have yet to launch an orbital class rocket. They are far, far behind SpaceX. The tortis and the hare analogy has very poor predictive value. Are children's fables a trustworthy source for determining what is actually true? Irony is rarely equal to accuracy.

    None-the-less, Blue Origin is not as far behind as the orbital / suborbital distinction. Blue Origin has an orbital-class engine in an advanced state of development. Their orbital-class rocket factory is years along in development. Their rocket is designed for at least partial use (unlike the initial F9s) and will be in the Falcon Heavy class. And, Blue Origin has steady funding and so the risk of its going out of business is small. All of these things should be considered when comparing B.O. and SpaceX.

  30. There's that classic Musk tweet, where people were challenging him with paper rockets, and he said

    "Bring It!"

    Pics or it didn't happen.

  31. Not everything is a race and not all customers are looking for a company trying to advance engineering. The existing customers for launch providers are looking for a dependable and cheap delivery service. It wont matter how long SpaceX been flying, any company that can deliver on par will get customers.

    "Remarkably, two of the panelists actually said they had greater belief in Blue Origin. I feel that statement was insane."

    That shouldn't be too surprising, this is the wrong industry for a perception of erratic behavior. He may be entertaining, but it's not good constantly fearing the ceo will do something stupid to upset everyone's apple cart. You can bet the industry cant wait for a dependable alternative that can compete on price and without the erratic melodramas.

    It's just another business, everyone should forget the irrational sycophantic hero worship and support any and all contenders willing to give space a go.

  32. Well, H looks good if lunar derived, but as O'Neill points out, the whole trick is to not launch from Earth, go right to the mass driver FIRST. The rockets do not matter at all, you always go ISRU/ISM from the start. And we need to quit assuming things will be on planetary surfaces without some really good stated reason to be. The crater the stuff comes from is there, perhaps. Don't fall for gravity.

  33. As it it a third stage, it has been tested as much as it can be, so it is not being actively developed. They were going to suborbit people quite a while ago, before virus, and it has been tested for that. Whether that works after riding a booster is yet another question, but I was trying to guess at the reason they have not been launching them for a while. The launch facility looks good to me, BTW. Simple, clean, economical.

  34. I don't disagree at all. As far as Earth to orbit rockets go, Musk seems to be in the lead. I hope Musk does deliver the lunar fuel factory, as it will mean both that his rockets are verrrry good and that it will include processing the C, N and ?? that are shown to be present by LCROSS, not just water. However, you must remember that until quite recently the *Gateway* was a place to assemble Earth launched and fueled Mars ships. Now, it is the center of a Bezos led assault on the Moon! Legal frameworks, international partners. Business partners, Axiom looks like a real deal. Orbital manufacturing. Space Solar, power beaming openly discussed. O'Neill thru and thru.

  35. "NS is a finished product"

    No, no, no, no, NO! Blue Origins thinks NS is a finished product. They hope NS is a finished product. They won't KNOW it's a finished product until they're launching things with it!

    In theory, practice is the same as theory. In practice, it isn't.

  36. The methane fueled rocket that's actually flying beats the ideal hydrogen fueled rocket that isn't flying. The less than ideal technology has prevailed many times by getting to market first, and being optimized first. Think VHS vs BETA. 8086 vs 6800.

    You want to beat SpaceX at this point, it's not with rockets. You'll accept that he has chemical rockets tied up, at least as far ask any flight originating on Earth is concerned, and probably for Earth space. Methane is just CHEAPER than Hydrogen, in Earth space, to the point where the technical superiority of Hydrogen doesn't matter.

    You want to beat SpaceX, you need to go to the next thing AFTER rockets, that exploits the high traffic SpaceX's lowered prices will create, to make a non-rocketry solution economical. A Lofstrom launch loop. Rotovators. Mass drivers. One of the heavy infrastructure routes to space that don't rely on the rocket equation.

  37. The problem isn't the depth of his pocket, it's his "get everything perfect before trying out hardware" philosophy. That's the approach NASA took after they got paranoid about the public turning on them if they ever lost another astronaut, so they like it, but that's NOT how engineering advances. Engineering advances by building things you think will work, and then seeing if they fail, and if so, how.

    The engineer who won't risk failure will not advance the field. Success just confirms what you already knew, failure teaches you something new. It's as much an empirical as theoretical discipline.

    SpaceX is willing to risk failure, AND applying high powered engineering. This is enabling them to advance the state of the art rapidly.

    And because they're launching on a frequent basis, they get frequent real world feedback on whether their designs really work as expected. They have a VERY steep learning curve.

    Blue Origin started before SpaceX, and still hasn't launched to orbit. What are they going to do if their first attempt at an orbital launch fails? Go back to the drawing board for a couple more decades?

    Now, it's true that Blue Origin is going down the right path if you mean to do fuel production on carbon poor Luna. But they're going to arrive on the Moon and find Musk already there. They're not going to beat Musk anywhere Musk feels like going. Heck their lunar fuel factory will probably be delivered on one of Musk's rockets.

  38. First, I see now that you were talking about lack of New Shep launches, as to Bezos' urgency. NS is a finished product, waiting for humans to ride, when virus is *over*. Testing another advanced landing system, but that rocket motor is being up sized for second stage New Glenn, and is the third stage already. "happen almost automatically" is finally obtaining, as having to pay for stuff sinks in, and Mars just don't cut it. ISM esp Space Solar does, as O'Neill plan sez.

  39. The way I see it, if O'Neill makes sense, it will happen almost automatically once all the means are present. Doesn't matter if the means we're created to colonize Mars.

  40. You are aware that Bezos just upped his support for BO? He does have the change, and prob would go faster if money could.

  41. Bezos will be ready to do ISM while Musk is refueling rockets with launched CH4/O because everyone else uses lunar H/O for theirs. Musk has a single goal, Mars, whereas Bezos has a much, much much much larger goal, O'Neill Space, so he is working on it as if he will not live to see it. Just get it started. Most big goals are like that. See BO Club for the Future for commitment measure.

  42. O'Neill ISRU and ISM are next on the NASA agenda, as I have been demanding for over 40 years. Then, maybe, Mars, if anyone still wants to visit. But far more likely than Mars settlement, O'Neill Settlements, as per Al Globus ELEO for example, and onwards, prob to L5. Which rockets? ISRU is designed to avoid launch and Earth material shortage. Rockets *sort of* don't matter, as any size/cost leads to the *same* ISRU/ISM conclusion (DO IT!), just faster and better with better rockets. Indeed, better rockets make ISRU more attractive, as the starting launched kit can be heavier ~= cheaper. I was ready to start in '77, before water on Moon was known, with the sort of rovers we are now planning, 2020. "Bezos has no urgency. He thinks he has forever." You are grasping at straws. He has a better plan is all. He can buy Musk rockets if they are that much better, and his plan will be the same. O'Neill.

  43. Yep, while his own aging is something Elon Musk is keenly aware.

    It makes me think that while Bezos has the money, he might not have the required commitment with the task.

    That's one minor disadvantage of space exploration and settlement being driven by the private sector: it happens as long as the rich visionary lives and wants to continue doing it.

  44. O'Neill colonies may get built, but at this rate it will be using Musk rockets. Bezos has no urgency. He thinks he has forever.

  45. The tortoise not always wins the race to the hare. Especially if it falls asleep right in the middle.

  46. What is insane is comparing BO to anything that does not include O'Neill plans, w/o even mentioning O'Neill. At least NASA has seen the light!

  47. The most important thing about these ridiculous 'd*ck measuring' contests, if they are indeed important to take note of, is the availability and domination of the top talent – propulsion, aero, materials, orbital mech, and their ilk. The ability to recruit, poach, and inspire top staff to attend facilities far away from home and over pressing delivery timelines is quite remarkable – the timing of the industry's needs (low private participation back in the late 1990s, early 2000s) and utilizing specialized head-hunter firms to strategically identify and gather. Musk's financial backing and industry savvy would also have to be immense, private, and highly risk tolerant. We underestimate the master recruiters/ visionaries to shape firms and industries when everything else related is in a lull. Right guy. Right time. Right place = orbital and cis-lunar infrastructure 10 – 20 years ahead of typical estimates for our advancements beyond LEO and previous lunar work. I think its high time to feature and trade Space Development Trading cards.

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