Blue Origin still a year away from launch humans on New Shepard

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Capitalism in space: Blue Origin revealed yesterday that it will still be a year at least before they start flying humans on their suborbital New Shepard spacecraft.

The company plans to later fly humans, both as payload specialists for human-tended experiments as well as on tourist flights. Those flights, though, are still at least a year away. “We’re probably a year and a half, two years out from when we’re actually able to fly tended payloads,” Ashby said. “We’re about roughly a year out from human flights, depending on how the test program goes. We have a bunch more tests to do, and we’re going to fly some human test flights before we put paying people in the rocket.”

Previously they had suggested they would be flying humans much sooner, possibly this year. Despite this new delay, last week’s test flight did include Blue Origin’s first paying customers, and the company indicated that they have sold space on all their upcoming unmanned test flights, and that their manifest for those upcoming flights is essentially full.

Though I know many disagree with me, I am increasingly doubtful there will ever be a viable suborbital tourist business. Once commercial orbital manned flights become available, I don’t see there being much profitable interest in such short suborbital experiences. The cost will be too high in comparison with the payoff. And it appears that those commercial orbital manned flights are going to be arriving at about the same time as New Shepard’s first manned flight.



  • Diane Wilson

    I wonder what the suborbital market might have been like, if Virgin Galactic had actually been able to deliver on its promises, on schedule. Yes, I know, that’s a big “if”, in hindsight they weren’t as close as they thought, it was an accident waiting to happen, and so much more.

    The question this raises for me, though, is New Glenn. They promise 2020, but how real is that? I know, there isn’t enough public information, they do have factories, launch pad facilities, etc. in construction, but the question to me is more of their development culture, whether they are seriously working to deadlines, and how long it will take to build the operational experience. They might be able to stand up a prototype on the launch pad by 2020, but that’s still a long ways from successful first launch and from demonstrating that they have a reliable launch vehicle.

    SpaceX has taken the route of developing operational capability concurrently with development, and ahead of recovery and reuse. It will be interesting to see how Blue Origin can progress to an operational vehicle. Is New Shepard an indication? Or a distraction? Or separate program with no impact on New Glenn?

  • Diane Wilson: The key to New Glenn will and always has been the engine. If Blue Origin can get the BE-4 engine built and tested, they can relatively quickly wrap the stage around it. The problem they have now is the engine, whose development appears to be proceeding, though slowly.

  • wodun

    Suborbital success really depends on their costs vs SpaceX’s prices. A ride on a Dragon Crew will be much cheaper than any existing launch service but still more expensive than most people can afford. BFR and BFS will change the equation.

    IIRC, Musk said the BFR will cost the same or cheaper than a F9. Assuming that it costs about the same, BO would need to get their ticket prices significantly under $600,000 a seat.

  • Will King

    I share Diane’s skepticism. An engine that works is a good start but no guarantee of a successful launch vehicle — ‘necessary but not sufficient’ as the saying goes. As an example, I give you the NK-33, the rocket engine made for the N-1 Soviet moon rocket. Apparently, it was an excellent design: refurbs of the original engine were used in Orbital ATK’s Antares vehicle (at least they were until the unfortunate rapid unscheduled disassembly that afflicted one of those birds back in 2014) and an updated version is used in a variant of the venerable R-7 family of Russian boosters. But … when they strapped 30 of the suckers together to power the N-1 it went … uh … badly, albeit spectacularly so.

    New Shepard is maybe 60 ft tall with capsule included and goes up about a sixty miles and back down again — rather like a rocket powered pogo stick. New Glen differs not just in scale (270 ft tall; 35 times the thrust) but its flight profile is much more ambitious, with earth orbit and beyond, and presumably terrestrial return in prospect. A 2020 launch date for a vehicle that, as far as I know, hasn’t been built yet with an engine that isn’t past the design stage seems not just optimistic, but more in the realm of wish-casting and fake news — you know, the stuff that Bezos’ other vanity project, The Washington Post, specializes in.

    P.S. I first heard of Behind the Black on the John Bachelor Show. I like John and he’s a great interviewer but sometimes his guests make me crazy. I always look forward to your visits though.

  • ken anthony

    Bezos doesn’t need to be a leader. As long as he’s alive BO can continue at whatever pace it does. It’s true value is showing the industry they don’t have to hand everything over to SpaceX, but SpaceX already has the momentum to take over perhaps more than 80% of the entire world’s launch business in the next five years (pending launch sites.)

    If the BE-4 is successful, some other company may license it to truly compete (not Boeing) with the BFR. I assume the BE-4 is being engineered for landing and reuse. They’ve figured out they can make money on the engine now, regardless of the New Glenn. Long term, the Raptor is a bit lower performance so may have a longer life for reuse?

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