Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

New Shepard test flight set for tomorrow

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin has scheduled a New Shepard test flight set for tomorrow morning at 10 am (Central), the first test flight in ten months.

This will be the seventh flight of this particular New Shepard spacecraft, the thirteenth overall for the program.

In March the company’s CEO had promised three flights by the end of 2020, with the last manned. The press release above howeveronly mentions that tomorrow’s test flight is the first of two, both now emphasizing how they will be flying payloads testing technology for lunar landings. No mention is made of a later manned mission.

It seems increasingly that Blue Origin is abandoning its suborbital space tourism business. If not, they sure don’t seem very enthusiastic about it any longer. Instead, they appear to be hyping New Shepard as a testbed for their effort to develop the manned lunar lander for NASA.

That same March update from the CEO had also said they would be initiating commercial production of their BE-4 rocket engine this year. All we have had so far is delivery of one testbed engine — not flightworthy — to ULA. ULA soon revealed there are problems with the engine.

All in all, Blue Origin is becoming less and less impressive, as time passes. Their suborbital tourism project appears to be abandoned. Their rocket engine has problems. And their New Glenn orbital rocket appears stalled.

All they have right now is their development contract with NASA to build a manned lunar lander, and in that case Blue Origin is only a minor player, even if the company is listed as the lead contractor. Their big partners (Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper) will build the bulk of the lander, should NASA finally get the project financed by Congress.

The company’s failure to deliver so far is a true shame, as the company has ample finances, backed by Jeff Bezos’ billions.

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  • David

    Word on the street is that BO started with a bunch of new, young, hungry people and got off to a great beginning. Then they waved around huge salary numbers and hired a bunch of experienced engineers from places like ULA. Who brought their oldspace attitudes and methodologies with them and promptly brought everything to a stand-still. It’s informative to see how many of the original crew have left to form their own companies.

  • Joe

    I have been hoping Blue Origin would keep up the New Space mantra but they are clearly now in the Old Space camp. Nothing happens fast, too much reliance on simulation, constant changing of specifications. I flew a payload back in April 2019 with Blue and have a lot of planned payloads. Cannot get back on the spacecraft as they keep delaying their flights. They need to get back on the program and get back to flying. A lot. They need to break things.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Kind of makes one admire the accomplishments of one E. Musk, don’t it?!

  • Edward

    Joe wrote: “They need to get back on the program and get back to flying. A lot. They need to break things.

    How true. It seems to me that their reluctance for any kind of failure is what is slowing them most. They had a failure during landing of their first system flight test, and they kept video of that private. Admitting mistakes is difficult for humans to do, but making mistakes is one of the fastest ways to learn, and admitting them is a mature way to go. Blue Origin was the first company to stick a landing, beating out SpaceX by days.

    An alternate philosophy to Blue Origin’s is to be open, admit failures, and learn quickly from them. SpaceX does this, seeming to be proud that their learning rate is so rapid. This rapid learning rate has allowed SpaceX to far surpass Blue Origin. SpaceX started two years later than Blue Origin but is now flying manned orbital missions on a spacecraft that will soon be declared operational.

    The Space Race of the 1960s was similar. The Soviet Union was secretive but had a head start. Ultimately, the open United States, which broadcast some (unintended) failures on live television, got ahead of the Soviet space program and reached its goal to land a human on the Moon and return him safely. Ray Van Dune is right: SpaceX is almost as bold as NASA was in the 1960s.

    Some people thought that NASA’s manned lunar goal was reached because “our Germans are better than their Germans,” but it was bold actions that made it happen. Our German wanted another test of the Saturn V launch vehicle, but NASA overrode his timidity and launched that Saturn V manned. Come to think of it, that was the Apollo 8 launch vehicle.

    My advised to Blue Origin is to become bold. Brag about lessons learned, because we are more confident in the service when we know that it has been fleshed out. Start operations sooner rather than later, because we all benefit when more services are available than when fewer are. Start earning revenues and making profits. Show the world that space is the place to make money.

  • Robert Pratt

    What David wrote makes sense and fits with experience I’ve seen in other firms. I wonder if it’s true…

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