Tag Archives: New Shepard

Blue Origin to do New Shepard launch abort test

The competition heats up: For the next test flight of New Shepard, tentatively scheduled for early October, Blue Origin plans to test the capsule’s launch abort system, separating the capsule prematurely from its propulsion module during launch.

“We’ll be doing our in-flight escape test with the same reusable New Shepard booster that we’ve already flown four times,” Bezos wrote. “About 45 seconds after liftoff at about 16,000 feet, we’ll intentionally command escape. Redundant separation systems will sever the crew capsule from the booster at the same time we ignite the escape motor. The escape motor will vector thrust to steer the capsule to the side, out of the booster’s path. The high acceleration portion of the escape lasts less than two seconds, but by then the capsule will be hundreds of feet away and diverging quickly. It will traverse twice through transonic velocities—the most difficult control region—during the acceleration burn and subsequent deceleration. The capsule will then coast, stabilized by reaction control thrusters, until it starts descending.”

If all goes well, the capsule will make a normal descent under three drogue parachutes, and then its main parachutes, to the ground. And the booster? It may not fare so well. It was not designed to survive an in-flight escape, Bezos noted, as it will be slammed with 70,000 pounds of off-axis force and hot exhaust. At Max-Q it is not clear whether the propulsion module will survive—in some Monte Carlo simulations it does, but in others it does not.

I suspect they already have at least one new propulsion module ready to go, and plan to use it with the reused capsule in future tests.

New Shepard aced its landing test

The competition heats up: According to an email sent out by Jeff Bezos, the recent New Shepard capsule landing test, with one parachute disabled, was a complete success.

Besides the three parachutes, New Shepard is slowed in its descent by a retrorocket that fires just before the capsule hits the ground. Bezos’ email also provided pictures of the “crushable ring” on the bottom of the capsule, which can help decelerate the craft if it hits the ground too fast (acting sort of like the bumper on a car). “Even with one chute out, the crushable barely crushed,” wrote Bezos, who is also founder and CEO of Amazon.com.

“When new, the crushable is about 5.5 inches [14 centimeters] high and can crush down to less than 1 inch [0.4 cm] high, providing a constant deceleration force as it crushes. After the mission, the crushable was still over 5 inches [12.7 cm] high along nearly the entire circumference of the ring,” Bezos wrote.

No word on when the next test flight will take place.

New Shepard successfully completes fourth flight

The competition heats up: Blue Origin today completed the fourth test flight of its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft, successfully landing intact its capsule with only two parachutes.

That’s four flights in about seven months, which for a test program seems a reasonable pace. I would expect them to soon begin testing faster turnaround times for the spacecraft, just to see if they can launch and repeat more quickly.

Blue Origin selects company to build its rocket factory

The competition heats up: Blue Origin has selected the construction company that will build its Florida rocket manufacturing facility.

This decision indicates that Blue Origin is now very confident in the designs of both its New Shepard capsule/rocket and its BE-4 rocket engine, and knows enough about both to begin committing money and resources to manufacturing both repeatedly.

Video of Saturday’s New Shepard flight

Blue Origin has released video of its New Shepard test flight on Saturday, once again in a slick edited presentation rather than raw video of the flight itself. I have embedded this video below the fold.

As promised, the propulsion module came down at full speed until only a few seconds before impact, then fired its engines and gently slowed, then hovered, then touched down without harm. The long shot of it coming down is especially breathtaking.
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New Shepard flies again, for the third time

The competition heats up: On Saturday Blue Origin successfully launched and landed its reusable New Shepard suborbital capsule/rocket spacecraft

The vehicle lifted off from the company’s test site shortly after 11 a.m. Eastern time, according to a series of tweets by company founder Jeff Bezos. The vehicle’s propulsion module, the same one that flew earlier test flights in November and January, made a successful powered landing, he said. Its crew capsule, flying without people on board, parachuted to a safe landing. … The vehicle reached a peak altitude of nearly 103.4 kilometers, slightly above the “von Karman line” frequently used as the boundary of space and similar to previous test flights.

This flight also carried some science experiments, demonstrating that Blue Origin’s customers will not be limited merely to space tourists.

New Shepard to fly this weekend

The competition heats up: Jeff Bezos indicated today on Twitter that the next New Shepard flight will be this weekend.

“Working to fly again tomorrow,” Blue Origin founder and Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos tweeted on Friday. “Same vehicle. Third time.” Adding to the intrigue, Bezos said there was a higher chance of a crash on the upcoming unmanned test flight. During its descent, the booster’s hydrogen-fueled BE-3 engine will re-light closer to the ground — just 3,600 feet up — and at higher thrust than before.

“Pushing the envelope,” said Bezos. “Impact in 6 sec if engine doesn’t restart & ramp fast.”

I will be out caving this weekend, so my reactions will have to wait until I return on Sunday night. Should be quite exciting however, especially as this will be third flight into space for this ship/rocket, a first as far as I know in space travel. There have been some vehicles reused, but I don’t remember any that reached space and were reused more than once.

Jeff Bezos gives a tour of Blue Origin

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.

New Shepard launch update

The competition heats up: Blue Origin expects to do about one launch per month of its New Shepard rocket in the next two years leading up to commercial space tourism flights in 2018.

Reports from the meeting quoted [Blue Origin executive Brett] Alexander as saying there would be a couple of dozen such test flights over the course of the next two years – which works out to an average of one flight per month. Alexander also told the gathering that it’s still too early to announce the ticket price for passenger flights.

Blue Origin to increase New Shepard launch rate

The competition heats up: Blue Origin expects to increase the rate of test flights for its New Shepard reusable rocket in 2016.

“We expect to shorten that turnaround time over time this year, and fly this vehicle again and again,” [Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson] said. Those upcoming tests will use the same New Shepard vehicle that flew the previous two flights, with hardware and software modifications as needed between flights. Meyerson said the company still plans to perform “dozens” of test flights of New Shepard over the next couple of years before the company is ready to carry people on the vehicle. “It really depends on how the flight test program goes,” he said. “It could be a little faster than that, or it could be a little longer than that, depending on what we learn.”

I expect that by the end of 2016, the U.S. will have two proven reusable first stage rockets and two operational orbital cargo spacecraft. And that doesn’t count the likely first demo flight of Falcon Heavy.

Blue Origin reflies and lands New Shepard again

The competition heats up: Blue Origin yesterday successfully re-flew its New Shepard booster, vertically landing it for the second time.

Data from the November mission matched our preflight predictions closely, which made preparations for today’s re-flight relatively straightforward. The team replaced the crew capsule parachutes, replaced the pyro igniters, conducted functional and avionics checkouts, and made several software improvements, including a noteworthy one. Rather than the vehicle translating to land at the exact center of the pad, it now initially targets the center, but then sets down at a position of convenience on the pad, prioritizing vehicle attitude ahead of precise lateral positioning. It’s like a pilot lining up a plane with the centerline of the runway. If the plane is a few feet off center as you get close, you don’t swerve at the last minute to ensure hitting the exact mid-point. You just land a few feet left or right of the centerline. Our Monte Carlo sims of New Shepard landings show this new strategy increases margins, improving the vehicle’s ability to reject disturbances created by low-altitude winds.

They are not clear whether the capsule was re-flown as well. They do say they intend to re-fly New Shepard many times in 2016, probably at an increasing rate. If so, I would say that the race to be the first to sell suborbital tickets to tourists is won by Blue Origin, and that Virgin Galactic and XCOR have been left in the dust.

I have embedded the company’s video below the fold of yesterday’s flight.
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FAA flight restrictions suggest upcoming New Shepard flight

The competition heats up: New temporary FAA flight restrictions scheduled for January 22 and 23 in the area where Blue Origin does its test flights suggest that the company is about to do another New Shepard test.

It is likely that they will re-fly the booster that they successfully landed in their November 23 flight.

Musk vs Bezos vs Branson

The competition heats up: Two stories today highlight the entertaining and totally beneficial space race that now exists between private American space companies, instigated by SpaceX’s successful vertical landing of its Falcon 9 first stage.

The first is a Popular Mechanics post showing two graphics comparing the flights of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket with Falcon 9’s first stage.

As they correctly note,

Both companies did a big thing and deserve accolades for it. The race is on to bring on true reusability, which has the potential to drive down the cost of space launches if done correctly. But Jeff Bezos is working with a rocket barely the size of the engine of the Falcon 9 first stage. For suborbital flight, Bezos did a big thing. For orbital flight, SpaceX did an even bigger thing. In suborbital flight, Bezos may have beat SpaceX’s Grasshopper rocket to a full suborbital flight and return, but he isn’t ready to fly with the Falcon yet.

Blue Origin is posed to become SpaceX’s biggest competitor, but they clearly are behind in the race and will need to do a lot to catch up.

The second article is an excellent essay by Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc noting that at this stage the race isn’t really between Musk and Bezos but between Bezos and Richard Branson.

Messier notes that Bezos’ New Shepard rocket is built to sell tickets to tourists on suborbital flights. He is not competing with SpaceX’s orbital business but with Richard Branson’s space tourism business at Virgin Galactic. And more significantly, it appears that despite a ten year head start, Richard Branson appears to be losing that race, and badly.

Not only that, but while SpaceShipTwo is essentially a deadend, capable only of suborbital tourism, Bezos’s New Shepard was designed to be upgraded to an orbital ship and rocket. Once they chaulk up some suborbital ticket sales and some actual flights, something they seem posed to do in the next two years, they will likely then begin moving into the orbital field. They will then leave Virgin Galactic far behind.

Blue Origin lands first stage rocket vertically

The competition heats up: Yesterday Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin did its second test flight of its New Shepard suborbital rocket and capsule, and successfully recovered the rocket’s first stage, landing the stage vertically using its rockets.

As Jeff Bezos wrote at the link:

Rockets have always been expendable. Not anymore. Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts, a used rocket.

This flight validates our vehicle architecture and design. Our unique ring fin shifted the center of pressure aft to help control reentry and descent; eight large drag brakes deployed and reduced the vehicle’s terminal speed to 387 mph; hydraulically actuated fins steered the vehicle through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to a location precisely aligned with and 5,000 feet above the landing pad; then the highly-throttleable BE-3 engine re-ignited to slow the booster as the landing gear deployed and the vehicle descended the last 100 feet at 4.4 mph to touchdown on the pad.

When you watch the video you’ll see that we took the liberty of engineering all the drama out of the landing.

I have posted video of the flight below the fold.

SpaceX has been attempting this with its orbital Falcon 9 rocket for the last two years. They have come very close, hitting their target and almost landing. They plan to try again in December. Blue Origin however has beaten them to it, even if they have done it with a suborbital rocket.This demonstrates unequivocally that the concept is sound and that a rocket’s first stage can be recovered. It also demonstrates that of all the rocket companies in the world, SpaceX and Blue Origin are in position to dominate for at least the next decade. I am very confident that SpaceX will succeed in its efforts to recover its first stage. I am also very confident that Blue Origin’s plans to upgrade New Shepard into an orbital rocket/capsule will proceed quickly.

In both cases, the companies will then move forward, capable of recovering and reusing significant parts of their rockets, thus making it possible to significantly lower the launch cost and thus charge their customers less. No one else is in this position, or even close to it. The launch market will belong to them.
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Next Blue Origin test flight before end of year

The competition heats up: Blue Origin not only intends to launch another test flight of its suborbital New Shepard rocket/capsule before the end of 2015, they hope to begin commercial unmanned flights by the second quarter of 2016.

Manned flights will follow, though they don’t say when. Based on this schedule, however, it appears that Blue Origin, which had hardly been on anyone’s radar for most of the last decade, is going to beat Virgin Galactic and XCOR in flying their first commercial flight.

Next New Shepard test flight expected before December

The competition heats up: Blue Origins has revealed that the next test flight of its suborbital New Shepard capsule and launch rocket will take place before the end of 2015.

They also noted that they will not be selling any tickets for suborbital flights for at least two more years, until they are satisfied that the test flights have proven the system. This is a far cry from other suborbital companies like Virgin Galactic and XCOR, who have made big promises to garner ticket sales, and have yet to deliver. Jeff Bezos’s company has instead decided to deliver first, and then sell tickets.

In the end, we shall see who wins the race to put the first tourists into space. What is certain in all this however is that Virgin Galactic has squandered the ten-year headstart it had when it started out in 2004.

In related news, Virgin Galactic says that construction of its second SpaceShipTwo ship is progressing well.

Blue Origin announces it will launch from Florida

The competition heats up: In a press conference today, Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin announced that his company will be making Cape Canaveral, Florida, its launchpad for their planned commercial orbital spacecraft.

Not only will they launch from a former Air Force launch complex, they will be building their production facility there for assembling their reusable ships. Bezos also said that they hope to be flying by the end of the decade.

New Shepard makes its first test flight

New Shepard launch

The competition heats up: Blue Origin completed on Wednesday its first test flight of its reusable suborbital spacecraft, New Shepard.

After reaching an altitude of 307,000 feet, or 58 miles, the capsule successfully separated from its first stage, what they call the propulsion module, and safely parachuted back to Earth. The first stage, designed to also be recoverable, was not recovered successfully. According to Jeff Bezos’s explanation, they “lost pressure in our hydraulic system” and that they were trying to land it vertically, like SpaceX’s Falcon 9 first stage.

The cropped image on the right of the full resolution image, gives us a close-up of the capsule and propulsion module. The small fins on the propulsion module suggest the capability for a vertical landing, but it is unclear from the image whether the module has legs, though other images and videos strongly suggest there are legs on this module.

The flight itself, getting above 50 miles, reached space according to most definitions. In fact, Blue Origin with this flight has accomplished what Virgin Galactic has been promising to do for more than a decade, a suborbital test flight of its spacecraft. Blue Origin’s flight was unmanned, but it demonstrated that their design works. They will of course have to re-fly the capsule as well as land that first stage successfully to prove the design’s re-usability, but this flight shows that they are off to a very good start. And their webpage clearly shows that they are almost ready to start selling tickets for suborbital flights.

The most significant success of this launch, however, is the performance of the BE-3 rocket engine. Blue Origin has convinced ULA to hire it to build the engines for its new Vulcan rocket. This success justifies that decision.

I have embedded their videos of the full flight below the fold.
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New Shepard test flights to begin within weeks

The competition heats up: Blue Origin is expected to begin regular test flights of its suborbital resusable manned spacecraft, New Shepard, within mere weeks.

This news came from a government FAA official involved in approving flight permits. The company itself has declined to comment.

Even if it is a few months rather than weeks, these flight tests will put more pressure on Virgin Galactic in the race to become the first commercial suborbital tourism company to sell and actually fly a passenger. And if I had to bet who’d win the race, I would no longer put my money on Virgin Galactic.

Fact checking Elon Musk’s statements about his company’s efforts to reuse the Falcon 9 first stage reminds us of some space history and one of Musk’s chief competitors.

Fact checking Elon Musk’s statements about his company’s efforts to reuse the Falcon 9 first stage reminds us of some space history and one of Musk’s chief competitors.

The bottom line: Bringing the first stage back to Earth safely and vertically is doable, and has been done before.

A close look at the environmental assessment that Blue Origin submitted to the FAA to get approval for an expanded test operations reveals their intention to do numerous launch abort tests of an orbital crew capsule.

The competition heats up: A close look at the environmental assessment that Blue Origin submitted to the FAA to get approval for an expanded test operations reveals their intention to do numerous launch abort tests of an orbital crew capsule.

At least, this is how I interpret the paperwork.

Jeff Bezos reveals some details about the goals of his space company, Blue Origin.

The competition heats up: Jeff Bezos reveals some details about the goals of his space company, Blue Origin.

Blue Origin is now working on its third version of the New Shepard, which is designed to take everyday people on suborbital journeys. Bezos said that he’s hopeful that this will be the last iteration, and he wants to see the next vehicle ready for commercial operation. “I’m very optimistic about that,” he said. Bezos didn’t give any specific timetables. However, he did say that Blue Origin’s orbital vehicle, designed to send astronauts to the International Space Station and elsewhere, will be tested by 2018. Eventually, the goal is to let anyone fly up into space safely at reasonable prices.

Not a lot of details, but previously we knew practically nothing. That the present ship is being designed for suborbital tourist flights makes it a direct competitor of Virgin Galactic and XCOR. And considering the problems that Virgin Galactic has with SpaceShipTwo, and that XCOR doesn’t have the big bucks of Bezos, Blue Origin might actually be in the lead in the race to put the first tourists in space.