Jeff Bezos gives a tour of Blue Origin

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The competition heats up: Jeff Bezos gave his first tour of Blue Origin’s facilities for eleven journalists on Tuesday.

The article is chock full of interesting details about the company’s plans. To me these details about their New Shepard test program are the most interesting:

“We’re going to fly it until we lose it,” he said. The plan is to test the spaceship many, many times without humans aboard. At some point, Blue Origin will run a test in which the crew capsule will have to blast itself clear from the propulsion module at maximum dynamic pressure – a scenario during which the propulsion module will almost certainly be destroyed.

Not to worry, though: More crew capsules and propulsion modules are already under construction at the factory. “By the time anybody gets on, I think you should be willing to bring your mom,” Bezos said.

They also hope that this test program will proceed to launching humans by 2017.


  • Edward

    Bezos said in the article: “We’re going to fly it until we lose it,”

    This may not be the best strategy. I once did a shake test on a standoff assembly, and after it passed the test at the qualification levels (much higher than we would expect during launch), we decided to shake it to the breaking point. It went well higher than we had designed it for, but NASA was not as impressed as we had imagined, as they became concerned that the standoff broke at all.

    Although I cannot imagine Blue Origin launching humans aboard their oldest, most used rocket, even their customers with “unaccompanied” experiments may not be happy that their experiment underwent a capsule abort. Failing rockets do not engender confidence, and I suspect even a rocket that fails after being used dozens of times would engender any more confidence. It may even make people wonder whether the company knows what problems to look for while inspecting their rocket.

    It is nice that the company is opening up and getting less secretive. I suspect that Bezos did not have enough confidence in his products, earlier, to make achievable goals for the future. He seems to be happy with the progress of Blue Origin and confident in its abilities.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Edward. I have no idea where you got the idea Blue Origin plans to put customer payloads on the flight that tests the capsule launch abort. The linked article certainly says nothing of the sort. Also, given that BO seems to have no plans to ever fly paying customers on their current, destined-to-die-in-testing New Shepard prototype, there is nothing about which those putative customers need have an opinion with respect to this particular craft. Your middle paragraph was, lamentably, almost entirely sense-free.

  • Edward

    The quote is: “‘We’re going to fly it until we lose it,’ he said.”

    If it does not die in testing, then it will fly paying customers’ payloads. If this happens, then its loss could happen during the launch phase rather than the recovery phase. The loss of the rocket during the launch phase flying a paying customer’s experiment would most likely involve the escape system.

    One of the fears that I have for commercial space is that at some time there *will* be a failure (more specifically, a failure in which crew and passengers are killed), and the reaction of a risk-averse society could be bad for this new industry. My concern from reading this article is that Bezos has suggested that if the rocket performs well enough for long enough, then it will eventually be used for revenue flights until it is lost. At some point testing will end and commercial flights will begin.

    My point in my previous comment was supposed to be that using this rocket until failure is similar to intentionally causing the failure, as they will not take it out of service before it fails.

    In a way, it is like the way I drive my cars into the ground (and even for a while after they start digging). It is OK for me to be stranded on the side of the road, but a taxi service or car rental agency would make their customers unhappy for stranding them. Thus, commercial operators would do well to retire their equipment before failure occurs.

    Sorry for writing an entire paragraph that makes no sense. I try not to make that mistake and will work harder to avoid it in the future. One method that I have used is to set aside a comment for a while and reread it when the thought is less fresh in my mind — if I then don’t understand what I meant, then no one else will make sense of it, either, as I must have left out an important point or an important piece of context. This is one reason why writers should have editors to review their work — it’s not just for spelling and grammar. I hope this reply provides the missing information.

  • You wrote: “If it does not die in testing, then it will fly paying customers’ payloads.”

    The article was quite clear, however. The last test flight will be to test the launch abort system, which they say will destroy the propulsion unit (the rocket below the capsule). Thus, they are going to fly it until they lose it, and they plan to lose it making sure they have a launch abort system that works.

    To my way of thinking, this testing program will reassure customers significantly.

  • Edward

    From the article: “a scenario during which the propulsion module will almost certainly be destroyed.”

    I missed that in both readings!

    “Not to worry, though: More crew capsules and propulsion modules are already under construction at the factory.”

    Well, I apparently *should* worry, though about my reading and comprehension skills. Where are those SRA reading cards, now that I actually need them. So much for attention to detail. (Maybe I should have been paying attention to them in grammar school, instead of sticking “I Robot” inside them to read instead. And aren’t you glad I don’t build the airplanes that *you* fly on?)

  • Garry

    Thanks for that link back to nostalgia; I loved going to the SRA box back in 4th grade. Haven’t thought about it in years.

  • Wayne

    Edward/Garry– Ref: SRA

    Wow– Blast from the Past!
    Ditto: Haven’t thought about those in decades! (“scores”)

    Anyone remember who manufactured their elementary school-desks? We had “American Seating, Grand Rapids, Michigan” Five words I never misspelled, it was on the back of every seat. HAR.
    Who’s old enough to have done “duck-n-cover?” (I didn’t, but we had a bomb-shelter in the school basement.)

    –Where did the time go…

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