New Shepard test flights to begin within weeks

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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.



  • Kelly Starks

    Given Blues6 – 7 years behind on their schedule to suborbital tourism, I don’t think anyone’s feeling a lot of pressure from them. However weren’t Virgins investors already making noises about wanting Branson’s head on a platter before the crash — hows the mood in those quarters as is?

  • pzatchok

    Well Branson is now down to stating that he only has 700 eager passengers on his waiting list. Down from the 2000 or so they kept quoting before.

    He also announced that he was building a liquid rocket capable of being dropped from his plane and lifting small payloads to orbit.
    Supposedly they have been in development with this rocket and engine for the last 5 years but are no where close to test launching one. Its just a small rocket. Why the long wait?

    Plus he is rebuilding the sub-orbiter but does not yet have a final design of the safety system for the wings. The NTSB(?) has not yet released any of its findings and recommendations.

    Plus his main engine design falls a bit short of its stated goals and still has not proven itself.

    Personally I can’t see why he still has investors.

    Plus, does he even have ANY safety equipment on that sub orbiter for the passengers or is he just hoping it doesn’t get a leak? Do the seat cushions even count as floatation devises?
    Does it even have those little drop down masks for O2? It is designed to be above 20,000 feet for over 20minutes and have NO WAY for a powered decent in case of trouble. Once up they have to wait for the craft to float back down.
    It has less safety equipment than a hot air balloon or a piper cub aircraft.

  • Kelly Starks

    When I was on the DreamChaser team one of the little issues they kept sweeping under the rug was the hybrid abort/escape rockets were throwing the balance way to off to land. So they needed to replace them with liquid rocket motors. The had the vendor lined up, unofficially told NASA, but for over half a year – even past CDR – they official designed everything for the hybrids.

    The also you see make the hybrids for SS2, and thought it would look awkward if they bailed on the kind of engines Branson was struggling to justify.


    >Personally I can’t see why he still has investors.


    > Does it even have those little drop down masks for O2?…

    You pop a window at those altitudes and no masks going to save you.

    > NO WAY for a powered decent in case of trouble. ..

    Nope, once the engine flames out ballistics and low altitude gliding rule you.

  • Edward

    I think that we all have to admit to ourselves that early space travel is not going to be as safe or reliable as modern air travel.

    It took a century to get to the safety record that US airliners now enjoy, and we have barely explored the problems and rigors of space travel.

    I hope that the industry can survive the first fatal passenger accident. It seems to be surviving the first test pilot fatality. Maybe that is helping the public to acknowledge that this is still a dangerous endeavor, unlike an amusement park’s thrill ride.

  • Kelly Starks

    > I think that we all have to admit to ourselves that early space travel
    > is not going to be as safe or reliable as modern air travel. ..

    Kind of a newspace cop out. Spacecraft are a lot less complex, and have to deal with less complex operating “environments” then space craft, hence why they, all things being similar, are a bit cheaper to develop. If you stick to normal engineering analysis and quality rules you can get aviation levels of safety. No up to Airliners 1 out of several million accident rates; but most of the way there, compared to the 1 out of every couple dozen recent patterns for space launch. For a suborbital like SS2 theirs really no excuse.

    >.. I hope that the industry can survive the first fatal passenger accident….

    Good question. NewSpace talking about folks needing to “get over the safety hangup” hurts a lot. (reminds me of the barnstormers and how airlines worked to get them outlawed by mandating safety standards) If the accident investigation doesn’t show anyone at fault – it will hurt confidence. Certainly the SS2 crash seems to have boosted the race to the door among passengers who put money down.

  • Edward

    > Kind of a newspace cop out.

    Not really. Getting to space is difficult and dangerous, and definitely not routine. It is significantly more difficult and dangerous than flying through the atmosphere.

    Even OldSpace has a poor track record. Around 1,000 people have flown in space (it is getting difficult to count), and 18 of those have died in flight (19, if you include Michael Adams in the X-15, but I do not include Michael Alsbury, as he was not attempting a space-altitude flight). I haven’t researched it, but this may be worse than the record for the first 1,000 aviators, a century ago.

    Spacecraft flight is inherently more dangerous than aircraft. Even for suborbital flights, the spacecraft has to reenter the atmosphere. Current rocket designs put a high pressure, high temperature, high vibration, high power engine right next to the fuel tank. On orbit, it takes more than half an hour to get to the surface, and that is once the spacecraft is in a location to reach a safe landing place (e.g. Gemini 8 took 2 hours, after the craft was brought back under control); but aircraft can land safely in less than half an hour.

    Clearly, spacecraft safety is harder to attain than aircraft safety. Burt Rutan designed SpaceShipTwo, yet it had a fatal accident early in its test phase. How many of Rutan’s previously designed airplanes had such fatal accidents during test? Same designer, and same engineering analysis and quality rules, but different results, because we don’t have the experience in this new field, with its more trying problems and mysterious traps.

    Just as we learned the hard way with the Comet and L-188 Electra aircraft, there are likely to be some surprising — and tragic — lessons yet to learn with spacecraft. As Bill Whittle said, “That’s the deal.”

    > mandating safety standards

    Safety standards are not a cure-all. There were many fatal accidents after standards were first set. It took decades of tragic lessons before the major US airlines went a whole decade without a fatality in a jetliner (now if only the regionals can match that record).

    > Spacecraft are a lot less complex

    NASA bragged that the Shuttle was the most complex machine ever built.

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