Tag Archives: New Shepard

Successful test flight of New Shepard

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin today successful flew its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft on its second test flight.

You can watch the video of the full flight here. Try not to cringe listening to the announcer, who I think sometimes overdoes it.

They were aiming for a maximum altitude of 350,000 feet, which would place the capsule more than 100 kilometers or 66 miles above the Earth, the generally accepted altitude for the start of space. The live stream showed an maximum altitude of about 347,000, but the article says that later recalculations estimated a top altitude of 351,000.

Either way, they have now successfully achieved a safe suborbital spaceflight twice with this spacecraft, and both times carried science payloads. Meanwhile, their direct competitor, Virgin Galactic, has come no where close, even after fourteen years of development.

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Blue Origin to test fly New Shepard tomorrow

Capitalism in space: Jeff Bezos announced yesterday that Blue Origin plans to test fly New Shepard tomorrow on its first flight for 2018.

“Launch preparations are underway for New Shepard’s 8th test flight, as we continue our progress toward human spaceflight. Currently targeting Sunday 4/29 with launch window opening up at 830am CDT. Livestream info to come. @BlueOrigin #GradatimFerociter,” Bezos said via Twitter.

I am glad to hear this. The lack of flights has been puzzling. That they are moving forward again is good news.

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Blue Origin’s CEO gives an update on the company’s rockets

Link here. According to the CEO, Bob Smith, they are making good progress on developing their BE-4 rocket engine, and also expect to test fly New Shepard again in a few weeks.

In both cases, he admits that development has taken longer than expected. For example, in discussing New Shepard, he said the following:

Smith said Blue Origin is still planning to start flying people on its New Shepard suborbital spaceship by the end of the year, after further uncrewed tests. “We would have loved to have flown more, earlier, but the design incorporation didn’t go as quickly as we’d like it to,” Smith said.

I have no idea what he means by “design incorporation.” The bottom line however is that they have had issues that slowed things down.

The article provides a lot more details. Overall, while he says nothing that contradicts earlier reports, he provides a good summary of the company’s status.

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Delays in New Shepard program?

In an interview for a Seattle news outlet, a Blue Origin official inadvertently hinted that the program was experiencing delays. Her words:

New Shepard will be flying Blue Origin employees by the end of this year, assuming our test program continues to go well. Within the next year or two, we’ll have paying customers, which is really exciting.

This vague statement confirms an earlier statement by another Blue Origin official, that the first manned test flights will not occur until the very end of this year, and that paying customers might not fly until 2020. It appears that there might be issues that are causing the New Shepard project to slow down. It could be the hardware, or maybe the company is reconsidering the profitability of suborbital tourism. By 2020 both SpaceX and Boeing will have the capability of putting tourists into orbit. The price might be much higher, but a large percentage of the customers who could afford the suborbital flight could also afford the orbital flight, and if they need to pick many are going to go orbital, reducing the customer base for the suborbital business.

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Blue Origin changes engines for New Glenn second stage

Capitalism in space: In order to maintain its goal of launch its orbital New Glenn rocket by 2020, Blue Origin has changed the engine it will use in the rocket’s second stage from a version of its main BE-4 engine to new version of their already developed BE-3 engine, used in their reusable New Shepard suborbital spacecraft.

A Blue Origin executive told SpaceNews the company is shelving development of a vacuum-optimized version of BE-4 and will instead use vacuum-optimized versions of flight-proven BE-3 engines for New Glenn’s second stage and optional third stage. “We’ve already flown BE-3s, and we were already in the development program for BE-3U as the third stage for New Glenn,” said Clay Mowry, Blue Origin’s vice president of sales, marketing and customer experience. “It made a lot of sense for us to switch to an architecture where we get there faster for first flight.”

The BE-3U is the upper stage variant of the liquid hydrogen-fueled BE-3 engine that has powered Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard spacecraft on seven suborbital test flights since its 2015 debut. Mowry said switching to the BE-3U for New Glenn’s second stage will allow Blue Origin to conduct the rocket’s first launch in the fourth quarter of 2020. He declined to say how much time the engine change saves compared to the original configuration.

This quiet change, which the company made with no fanfare, carries with it some significant information as well as important ramifications. First, the BE-3 engine is less powerful than the planned BE-4, which is why they will use two BE-3 engines in the second stage instead of one BE-4, while also extending the length of the stage to accommodate more fuel. Though they claim the change will increase the rocket’s range, I suspect however that even with these changes New Glenn’s overall orbital payload capacity will be reduced.

Second, the change indicates that development of the BE-4 engine is proceeding slower than expected, threatening their 2020 launch goal. They have had one test failure that set them back, and the change suggests to me that they are having issues with making the engine restartable.

Third, if they have problems making the BE-4 engines restartable, this means their plans to reuse the first stage of New Glenn will be impacted. While those first stage engines do not need to restart on any single flight, reusing them requires this capability.

Fourth, problems with the BE-4 might cause ULA to reject it and choose Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR-1 engine for its new Vulcan rocket. Up to now ULA has indicated it prefers the BE-4. These issues might change that.

Fifth, this change, combined with the continuing lack of New Shepard test flights, suggests that the company is increasingly considering abandoning this suborbital spacecraft.

I am doing a lot of speculating here, and could be very wrong on many if not all of these suppositions. We shall have to wait and see.

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Blue Origin releases video from inside capsule

Cool movie time! Blue Origin has released a video taken from inside this week’s test flight of its New Shepard capsule, showing the entire flight.

The link provides some information about some of the experiments the capsule also carried. I have embedded the video below the fold. Definitely worth watching.
» Read more

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Blue Origin successfully flies upgraded New Shepard capsule

Capitlism in space: Blue Origin yesterday successfully completed the first flight of its upgraded suborbital reusable New Shepard spacecraft.

Further details noted this test was called Mission 7 (M7), featuring a next-generation booster – powered by its BE-3 engine – and the first flight of Crew Capsule 2.0, a spacecraft that now features real windows, measuring 2.4 x 3.6 feet.

The test flight also carried 12 payloads and even a passenger – specifically an instrumented dummy brilliantly named “Mannequin Skywalker”.

Further details noted the flight time was 10 minutes and six seconds, launching at 10:59 a.m. CT from Blue Origin’s West Texas test site. The booster achieved Mach 2.94 on ascent & Mach 3.74 on descent. It again showed its landing skills, as shown on the video released by Mr. Bezos.

I have embedded the company’s video below the fold.
» Read more

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Blue Origin to resume New Shepard test flights next week?

Capitalism in space: An FAA airspace notice published yesterday strongly suggests that Blue Origin will resume test flights of its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft next week.

The Notice to Airman, or NOTAM, published by the FAA on its website Dec. 9 closes airspace above Blue Origin’s test site between Dec. 11 and 14, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern each day. The closure is to “provide a safe environment for rocket launch and recovery.” The NOTAM does not give additional details about the planned activities, but does identify Blue Origin as the point of contact regarding the airspace closure.

The flight will test a new capsule and propulsion unit, as the vehicle that was test flown multiple times in the previous test flights has been retired. What is interesting is that the company says it is building more than one. This will give them a fleet which will allow them a rapid launch rate.

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Update on the development of Blue Origin’s orbital rocket New Glenn

Link here. The article provides a lot of interesting details about Blue Origin’s plans and status, including this tidbit about the New Glenn assembly facility, now expected to be finished by February 2018 at the latest:

The facility will largely be used to build the second and third stages for New Glenn, with Blue Origin actually planning to construct very few first stage boosters.

With each first stage booster planned to be reused up to 100 times, the factory will mainly concentrate on – and for large periods of time is only planned to – produce 2nd and 3rd stages. Mr. Henderson noted that once the first stage boosters are retrieved after flight, their storage will be managed across the refurbishment facility at LC-36 (capable of holding three or four boosters), the integration facility at LC-36 (also capable of holding “at least” three or four boosters), and the Merritt Island production facility (which can hold four boosters).

This would seemingly reveal that Blue Origin plans to rely on roughly only 12 first stage boosters at a time (once New Glenn is fully operational and recovery is “routine”), relying almost exclusively on booster recovery and refurbishment to maintain its first stage boosters manifest.

The article also notes the Blue Origin intends to always land its stages on a barge, and is about to finalize the purchase of that barge.

What I am puzzled about is the almost complete disappearance from the news of the company’s suborbital project, New Shepard. The last news story I’ve seen, from mid-September, said they hoped to resume test flights before the end of the year, with manned flights in 2018. Since then, however, there has been no updates, which makes me wonder if Blue Origin has decided to put that suborbital tourism project aside.

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Suborbital promises

Capitalism in space: Two stories today highlight the contrasts that presently exist within the still unborn suborbital tourist industry:

In the first, Richard Branson made another one of his bold predictions, the same kind of prediction he has been making about Virgin Galactic now for almost a decade. Again and again he claims, based on nothing, that his spaceship will be carrying people into orbit in mere months. It never happens. It won’t happen here.

In the second, Jeff Bezos announces that he hopes to fly people on his New Shepard suborbital spacecraft by 2018, but at the same time he also announces that the program is delayed.

Bezos, speaking in front of the company’s exhibit at the 33rd Space Symposium here that features the New Shepard propulsion module that flew five suborbital spaceflights in 2015 and 2016, backed away from earlier statements that called for flying people on test flights later this year. “We’re going to go through the test program, and we’ll put humans on it when we’re happy,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be 2017 at this point. It could be.”

Bezos has been very careful, from the beginning, to make no bold or specific predictions about when his spacecraft will fly manned. Here, he is once again making it clear that any previously announced schedules were very tentative, and should not be taken too seriously.

Which person would you trust with your life on a suborbital flight?

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A look at Blue Origin’s upcoming plans

Two stories today give us a peek at Blue Origin’s future plans.

The first outlines how the company plans to launch its orbital rocket, New Glenn, from Florida. The second provides a photo tour of the company’s suborbital New Shepard capsule, as designed for tourist flights.

I must mention that I have been disappointed at the lack of test flights for New Shepard in recent months. Their last flight was in October, almost six months ago, when their test of the capsule’s launch abort system was supposedly a success. No tests since, even though they have said they planned the first manned test flights this year. I am beginning to wonder if they have decided to shift resources to the orbital system and thus slow the suborbital program down.

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Success for New Shepard launch abort test

The competition heats up: Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule not only successfully rocketed away from its propulsion module and landed safely, the propulsion module unexpectedly survived today’ launch abort test and landed vertically as well.

This was the fifth flight of the propulsion module, which with the capsule will now be retired and placed on display.

Below the fold is the video of the entire test flight, including countdown and several long holds. The actual launch is at 1:06:19.
» Read more

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
» Read more

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
» Read more

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