Bezos’ Blue Origin Conducts Maiden Test Flight of ‘New Shepard’ Space Vehicle

The New Shepard space vehicle blasts off on its first developmental test flight over Blue Origin’s West Texas Launch Site. The crew capsule reached apogee at 307,000 feet before beginning its descent back to Earth.  Credit: Blue Origin

The New Shepard space vehicle blasts off on its first developmental test flight over Blue Origin’s West Texas Launch Site. The crew capsule reached apogee at 307,000 feet before beginning its descent back to Earth. Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin, the aerospace company privately owned and bankrolled by billionaire and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, announced early today, April 30, that the firm successfully flew the maiden developmental test flight of their New Shepard space vehicle on Wednesday, April 29.

The highly secretive company divulged the completion of the uncrewed suborbital test flight in the overnight hours, after it had taken place from Blue Origin’s West Texas Launch Site.

The New Shepard crew vehicle soared aloft atop a finned Blue Origin rocket powered by the firm’s privately developed liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen fueled BE-3 engine to an altitude of approximately 58 miles (93 kilometers).

Bezos vision is for New Shepard to eventually carry astronauts and space tourists on suborbital trips to space.

“Today we flew the first developmental test flight of our New Shepard space vehicle,” said founder Jeff Bezos in an online blog and statement.

“Our 110,000-lbf thrust liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen BE-3 engine worked flawlessly, powering New Shepard through Mach 3 to its planned test altitude of 307,000 feet.”

The BE-3 rocket engine is the first new hydrogen engine to be developed in the United States in more than a decade since the RS-68. Blue Origin recently completed acceptance testing of the engine, as reported here. In the future the company plans to modify it for use as an upper stage.

Here’s a dramatic video of the launch and capsule landing posted by Blue Origin:

Video caption: Highlights from Blue Origin’s New Shepard space vehicle as it makes its first developmental test flight on April 29, 2015. Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin’s rocket system is based on a reusable vertical takeoff and landing architecture that will carry up to six astronauts or space tourists to the edge of space.

You can even sign up for a mailing list to receive “early notification when we’re ready to accept flight reservations.”

The boundary of space is generally defined as starting at 62 miles (100 km).

The New Shepard capsule sports 530 cubic feet of interior pressurized volume, enough “for you to float freely and turn weightless somersaults,” says Blue Orion.

Blue Origin is not the only firm going after the sub-orbital space tourist market. Bezos is competing with the likes of Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic, which suffered a fatal test flight crash last Fall, as well as XCOR.

Bezos reusability plan is similar in concept to Elon Musk’s rocket reusability plan for his SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets, which was most recently attempted on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station.

The goal for both Blue Origin and SpaceX is to recover, refurbish, and reuse the rockets and capsules in order to drastically cut the high cost of access to space.

The New Shepard system comprises a pressurized capsule and booster and is a fully reusable vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) space vehicle, according to a description from Blue Origin.

“We continue to be big fans of the vertical takeoff, vertical landing architecture. We chose VTVL because it’s scalable to very large size.”

Here’s a longer view of the New Shepard maiden test flight:

Video caption: Long distance tracking of Blue Origin’s New Shepard space vehicle as it makes its first flight, carrying its crew capsule to 307,000 feet and returning it safely to Earth on April 29, 2015. Credit: Blue Origin

The test proceeded nearly flawlessly, according to Bezos.

“Guidance, navigation and control was nominal throughout max Q and all of ascent. The in-space separation of the crew capsule from the propulsion module was perfect. Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return,” wrote Bezos.

The only flaw was a failure to recover the propulsion module.

“Unfortunately we didn’t get to recover the propulsion module because we lost pressure in our hydraulic system on descent. Fortunately, we’ve already been in work for some time on an improved hydraulic system,” Bezos explained.

The booster is equipped with landing legs. Two additional boosters are already being manufactured.

After a clean separation from the propulsion module, the New Shepard crew capsule descends to a gentle landing in the west Texas desert.  Credit: Blue Origin

After a clean separation from the propulsion module, the New Shepard crew capsule descends to a gentle landing in the west Texas desert. Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin is also developing a much more powerful variant, dubbed “Very Big Brother,” that will be capable of launching to orbit.

That rocket architecture will we powered by Blue Origin’s privately developed 550,000-lbf thrust liquefied natural gas, liquid oxygen BE-4 engine.

The BE-4 has also been selected by United Launch Alliance (ULA) as the first stage powerplant for their newly announced Vulcan rocket that will replace their current stable of Atlas V and Delta IV rockets.

Last September, United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tory Bruno and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos announced a joint effort to development the BE-4 engine, as a powerful new American-built rocket engine that could eventually replace the Russian- built RD-180 engines currently used in the Atlas V rocket and whose future supply is questionable after the Cold War-like tensions with Russia over the annexation of the Crimea and ongoing separatist war in Ukraine.

Trajectory diagram of a New Shepard flight. Credit: Blue Origin

Trajectory diagram of a New Shepard flight. Credit: Blue Origin

Competing on cost with SpaceX is another critical goal of the BE-4 engine that cannot be overstated.

First flight of the Vulcan and BE-4 is projected for 2019.

Blue Origin has also worked with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) in a public-private partnership to develop a crewed capsule to transport astronauts to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS).

Bezos stated goal is to “develop vehicles and technologies to enable commercial human space transportation.”

Stay tuned here for continuing developments.

Ken Kremer

 

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The New Shepard crew capsule separates from the propulsion module and continues its ascent to 307,000 feet before returning to Earth for a classic landing under parachutes.  Credit: Blue Origin

The New Shepard crew capsule separates from the propulsion module and continues its ascent to 307,000 feet before returning to Earth for a classic landing under parachutes. Credit: Blue Origin

Early Prototype New Shepard Vehicle Photo Credit: Blue Origin

Early Prototype New Shepard Vehicle
Photo Credit: Blue Origin

54 comments to Bezos’ Blue Origin Conducts Maiden Test Flight of ‘New Shepard’ Space Vehicle

  • Tim Andrews

    Booster vehicle vertical landing failed due to loss of hydraulic pressure, but an updated hydraulic system was already in the works. I’m sensing a theme among new space companies…

    I’m sure lessons learned with New Shepard will help Blue Origin on their path to orbital vehicle development, but I really wonder about the business viability of sub-orbital flights on New Shepard itself.

    Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and XCor are all working toward providing sub-orbital space-tourism flights. I’m sure there are some rich folks out there willing to part with enough money to buy a nice house to say they’ve been to space, but I find it hard to imagine there are enough of them to really support a continuing multi-provider market for very long, not for just a joyride that lasts only a few minutes and doesn’t actually take them somewhere.

    • Joe

      I share your skepticism about the viability of the suborbital tourist market, but Blue Origin has a few things going for it that SpaceX does not:

      (1) They are developing engines using H2/LOX and LNG/LOX, with the BE3 (H2/LOX) intended from the beginning to be able to serve as a reusable inter-orbital tug engine.

      (2) They have done a good enough job on the BE3/BE4 to convince ULA to make a significant investment in continuing work on the BE4 and a complete initial vehicle to use the BE4 (first stage) and BE3 (second stage).

      (3) They can make the legitimate claim (at least so far) to be truly commercial, because unlike SpaceX they are not taking government money to support the development and are not (directly or indirectly) trying to undercut government support for the SLS/Orion.

      If they succeed:
      – Bezos will become even richer.
      – ULA will get a “new, improved” launcher to compete in the military/civil satellite market.
      – Human Space flight supporters will eventually get a reusable inter-orbital tug that will make travel in cis-lunar space much more accessible (it would be interesting to see if the BE3 could serve as the engine for a lunar surface to orbit vehicle and maybe even an upper stage engine for the SLS as well).

      It they do not succeed: It is their money not the taxpayers.

      • Jim Hillhouse

        Excellent points Joe. Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are now the only “commercial” space companies to reach space and do so with the vast majority, well over 95%, of their funding privately raised. Like you, I agree that this makes them the only true commercial space companies. When Blue Origin goes orbital, it will be historic.

        At 530 ft3, if Blue Origin goes for ISS cargo or crew, New Shepard’s volume would enable Blue Origin to launch both a crew of 6 and pressurized cargo. No other non-NASA designed spacecraft, including Dragon 2 or CST-100, which at around 350 ft3, will have such a robust capability.

        More to the point, if a private company like Blue Origin can on its own dime launch its voluminous spacecraft into orbit by 2019, NASA should take that into account, rework CCtCap funding, and save a few billion. I agree with Elon, NASA shouldn’t be subsidizing companies when private enterprise will do the job itself!

        Blue Origin’s progress fully undermines the notion that government needs to spend billions to “seed” the creation of the commercial crew industry. That to me makes Blue Origin’s launch yesterday the biggest news in aerospace for 2015.

        • Tim Andrews

          I agree completely that Blue Origin is far more deserving of the credit that a lot of media is giving SpaceX for being “commercial” because they are the ones using mostly commercial money for their development.

          I don’t think their progress undermines the concept that government spending isn’t seeding development though. They’re already in development agreements with an established military contractor in pursuit of military launch contracts. They’ve taken millions of dollars from NASA (a tiny drop compared to what SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada have taken) for their launch abort system and capsule pressure vessel design, and competed for other funding as well.

          If anything Blue Origin looks to me like the poster child for how government spending is encouraging commercial investment and development, far more so than SpaceX, Orbital or Boeing.

          “if a private company like Blue Origin can on its own dime launch its voluminous spacecraft into orbit by 2019”

          • Tim Andrews

            Ooops, Posted before finishing my rambling…

            Re: Manned flight by 2019 and re-working CCtCap in response.

            It’s mighty tricky to predict the future. This week’s test flight of New Shepard was supposed to take place in 2010, with commercial passenger operations starting 3 years ago. But then again Commercial Crew has a slew of milestones that didn’t happen on time. SpaceX has had the deadline for their CCiCap pad abort re-scheduled 2 times now.

            If I understand the structure of Commercial Crew correctly, that’s one of the things I like about it. Suppose Blue Origin does have an orbital version of New Shepard ready by 2019, and suppose Boeing and SpaceX both don’t. If I understand the program correctly NASA would have the flexibility to not award milestones that had missed their deadline, and allocate that funding instead to launches with Blue Origin.

            • Ok, a few points.

              Granted, Blue Origin’s test was supposed to occur years before it did. As you note, the same can be said for SpaceX, which is a poster-child for over-promising and under-delivering schedule-wise. As Elon has said, space is tricky.

              But are you sure about Blue Origin wanting to fly by 2010? Blue Origin was part of CCP round 2 and as I recall all anyone was working on then was getting electronics, software, and some hardware validated.

              Here’s why I think Blue Origin has lit a bomb in congressional space circles. Congressional appropriators are being asked to fund $6.8B over five years for Boeing and SpaceX under CCtCap. The first problem facing NASA is that Congress, not the White House, is running it, although Bolden seems blithely unaware of this. And congressional staffers have said that they had no heads-up about the size of the CCtCap awards, which caught them by surprise. Members still are not happy about that.

              That lack of support is evident if you watch Bolden’s March hearings before the Senate CJS Apropos Subcommittee and House Space Subcommittee. During both, members repeatedly asked, aside from why Bolden violated Sec. 3.2 of the 2010 NASA Auth. Act, that if getting Americans back to orbit was the chief priority for NASA, why not just award one CCtCap contract, fund the prime awardee (Boeing) the full $6.8B, and get CST-100 up faster? Bolden talked about redundancy. And that is a good point.

              Until, that is, the Blue Origin bombshell. If Blue Origin will fund an orbital vehicle without NASA funding, now NASA can fund CST-100 and not worry about a redundant crewed craft. What members will hear is, “privately funded.” and everything else will be noise. I imagine that calculation wasn’t too far from Bezos’ mind.

              I think CCP contracting you’re referring to existed earlier but no longer does with the end of CCiCap. When CCP funding was through Space Act Agreements, NASA could have dropped a participant at any point. The CCtCap funding is via federal acquisition regulations. Yes, NASA can hold an awardee in breach, but it’s rare that an FAR is canceled. Of course, new Administration and Administrator, anything is possible, just ask the Constellation folks. But congressional staffers are aware that canceling a contract means protracted litigation. Mixed with Elon’s sue-happiness and it’s guaranteed.

              One option would be to fund all $6.8B to Boeing and insert Authorization language, or report language, that if Boeing falls behind enough to trigger Nunn, NASA could then award funding for either of SpaceX or Blue Origin. If appropriators refuse funding for the secondary CCtCap award, things will get interesting.

              It will take time for congressional space members and staffers to digest the impact of Blue Origin’s test. Bezos really stirred the pot!

    • Aidan Bynum

      See status of commercial aviation in 1904, every criticism you have just mentioned was mentioned at the dawn of aviation. Price drops, more people go which drops the price further allowing even more people to go which drops the price further allowing even more people to go etc etc etc

      • Tim Andrews

        I would disagree with the comparison to commercial aviation. If commercial aviation had been limited to joyrides (take off from one spot, fly up in the air and land back near the same spot) as opposed to being able to transport people and cargo between destinations, I don’t think it ever would have developed the market needed to support the technology developments we see today.

        Blue origin is pushing towards long term goals of orbital capability, actually taking people and cargo places – that’s what it’s going to take to make space travel an “every day” thing.

        People take joyrides in helicopters now – like around Orlando, or over the Grand Canyon for tourist sight seeing. It’s a legit business but imagine if that was the whole aviation market. By itself that market never would have justified the development cost of modern helicopters.

        • Gary Church

          Joyrides do not a space industry make. It’s destined to fail.

          The ONLY revenue generator in space is satellites. Replacing the GEO satellite junkyard with far more capable and efficient human crewed space stations is fairly straightforward; Use Super Heavy Lift Vehicles to carry robot landers and wet workshops into lunar orbit to bring water up from the surface. The assembled water shielded stations can then transit back across cislunar space into GEO and capture the over 100 billion dollar a year revenues of that industry. There is really no other way to establish a human presence Beyond Earth Orbit as a first step to Space Solar Power.

          But a program of Super Heavy Lift Vehicles going to the Moon is far beyond anything “entrepreneurs” can pull off. It is a massive state sponsored public works project that is the anti-thesis of NewSpace. All the blather about affordability, competition, and new markets is fantasy. There is no cheap.

          • Tim Andrews

            My curiosity is piqued.

            I’m all in favor of manned exploration and stations at GEO and cis-lunar orbits, but how would manned stations take over the job of current unmanned satellites in GEO more efficiently? A satellite relaying TV signals for example won’t gain benefits from having someone sitting on board, but the resource cost to keep someone there would be much higher than doing it unmanned.

            “a program of Super Heavy Lift Vehicles going to the Moon is far beyond anything “entrepreneurs” can pull off.”

            There are two sides to that coin. A task of that magnitude is also beyond what the government has ever been able to pull off without turning to commercial industry to get it done.

            • Gary Church

              “-how would manned stations take over the job of current unmanned satellites in GEO more efficiently?”

              Crew is shielded from worst possible solar event, equipment is shielded also.
              It it is broke (satellites break) it is fixed.
              It needs upgrades, it is upgraded.
              No more space junk.
              Instead of dozens of satellites each a failure point in orbit, equipment is in one station.

              “-beyond what the government has ever been able to pull off without turning to commercial industry to get it done.”

              It is obvious that NASA did not build the Saturn V, dozens of different companies building a design to NASA specifications did. There is only one side to the coin because entrepreneurs cannot do that.

              • Gary Church

                Again:
                A methane fueled robot lunar lander that can use it’s ascent engine to insert a SLS wet workhshop into a lunar “frozen” polar orbit, descend on a set of smaller engines onto an ice field, harvest a load of water and convert some of it into methane and oxygen, return to the workshop to transfer water and then do it all over again till it wears out–this is the technology for BEO operations that is needed.

                Once there are sufficient numbers of these workshops with their radiation shields filled with water in lunar orbit and ready for astronauts then anything happening in LEO becomes….no longer of any interest or value at all. Which is why scenarios like this make a Moon return the kiss of death to NewSpace. Oh yes, they hate the SLS for a reason.

                • ” harvest a load of water and convert some of it into methane and oxygen”

                  I readily admit that it has been over three decades since I have taken a chemistry class but how exactly does one convert water, H2O, into methane, CH4?

                  “Once there are sufficient numbers of these workshops with their radiation shields filled with water in lunar orbit and ready for astronauts then anything happening in LEO becomes….no longer of any interest or value at all”

                  Except for weather satellites, GPS, non-GEO comsats constellations, Earth observation satellites, a whole range of military and intelligence satellites, and a laundry list of science satellites (astronomical observatories, space environment, biosats, material sciences, etc.) just to name a few… basically the majority of the unmanned satellites that are launched every year whose missions are best performed from LEO. Even if we were to create the lunar-based infrastructure you envision, the Moon (or even GEO) is not the ideal place to do everything space-related and there would still be plenty of interest and need for LEO satellites that does not involve the ISS or space tourism which you apparently abhor.

                  • Gary Church

                    You are a liar and a bully and continue to harass me. I already explained methane in another comment on this thread and you know that- you harassed me with a meaningless historical example at the end of it. GEO telecommunications satellites generate the majority of profits- you know that also (I know what you do for a living) but are leaving that out of your B.S. in the interest of trying to discredit me.

                    Insufferable nagging is all you do and you contribute nothing except a negative toxic environment intended to hound and discourage me from presenting my views. I abhor YOU Andrew and every time you nay say and harass me I tell you to stop replying to my comments and post your own but you refuse to stop bullying me.

                    • If you have an issue with my comment, please bring it up with the moderators.

                    • “GEO telecommunications satellites generate the majority of profits- you know that”

                      Yes, but I also know that simple “profit” is a very poor metric for measuring the real value of anything including satellites. HST is a LEO satellite that has not generated any profit for NASA yet it is considered valuable because of its contributions to science. What about the value of weather satellites over the last half century in lives and properties saved? What about the value of the constellations intelligence and early warning satellites to improving our security? None of these generate profit yet have value. If generating profit were the only way to measure a program, there would be no space program save for things like GEO comsats,a smattering of commercial Earth observation platforms and space tourism (which is already generating some nice supplemental income for the RSA).

                    • Gary Church

                      “-simple “profit” is a very poor metric for measuring the real value of anything including satellites.”

                      According to NewSpace the ONLY thing that matters is profit. Your comment is again, simple harassment- you just want to reply with something contrary to get a reaction.

                      You are a liar and a bully Andrew and you refuse to stop harassing me. Every time you do this I will expose you for what you are.

  • Jim Hillhouse

    I have to say I am pleasantly stunned that a company has been able to get this far with over 95% of its funding raised privately. Instead of years of press conferences, missed deadlines, and over-blown promises, we have a company that on its own dime is making strong and quiet progress towards orbit by a private space company.

    This is what many envisioned with the rise of “commercial” space in the late 1990’s and not the corporate welfare abomination developed in the mid-2000’s that is NASA’s COTS and CCP programs. I can’t say enough how proud I am of my fellow Texans’ success.

  • Lori Robin

    Congratulations to Jeff Bezos! This is hard stuff!

  • Gary Church

    “The boundary of space is generally defined as starting at 62 miles (100 km).”

    The first distraction used to confuse and mislead the public. LEO is not really space. “Halfway to anywhere in the solar system” is not 200 miles up, it is 20,000 miles up. This famous Heinlein quote is often misquoted to further the NewSpace agenda.

    “Once you get to Earth orbit, you’re halfway to anywhere in the solar system.”
    — Robert Heinlein

    • The FAI defines the threshold of space as 100 km. This definition is not “a distraction to confuse or mislead the public”, it is a widely accepted international standard that came into being looooong before there was ever a “NewSpace agenda”.

      http://www.fai.org/icare-records/100km-altitude-boundary-for-astronautics

      This link to the FAI web page explains the definition of the boundary of space and includes a means of contacting the FAI directly so you can make your case of changing that definition to 20,000 miles directly to them.

      • Gary Church

        “-you can make your case of changing that definition to 20,000 miles directly to them.”

        Thank you but you don’t give orders here and I am making that case to anyone participating in this discussion and not trying to shut me down. You and your friends already tried to ban me by implying legal action against this site.

        The fundamental disconnect between NewSpace and real space exploration are these billionaut Tony Stark types that do not have the resources to go anywhere except LEO. This is the same dead end that for want of federal funding and a byzantine decision process created the shuttle- a Saturn V class launch vehicle that tried to be “commercial” and ended up costing so much and accomplishing so little.

        A key technological benchmark is the first stage lift-off thrust of these vehicles that are truly the basic determinant of what is possible to accomplish. From 1.5 million for each of 5 engines the retrograde step after Apollo was a LEO restricted launcher that reduced thrust from the 7.5 million pounds of thrust of the Saturn V.

        LEO is endless circles at very high altitude going nowhere- space travel requires a destination and that first base from which to expand into the solar system is the Moon. All of this “commercial space” NewSpace hype is the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration and is crippling any serious efforts to establish a human presence Beyond Earth Orbit.

        • “Thank you but you don’t give orders here and I am making that case to anyone participating in this discussion and not trying to shut me down.”

          Pointing out the facts about the FAI definition of space and giving you contact information so you can discuss your concerns directly with them is not giving you orders nor is it shutting you down. It is providing you with information that you can use as you please.

          • Gary Church

            “It is providing you with information that you can use as you please.”

            No thank you. The insufferable nagging, rancorous conservative grudge, and interminable bad analogies provided by you and your cronies was not and is not requested, was not, and is not welcome. Do you understand? Is there something I am not explaining to you clearly enough?

            “This definition is not “a distraction to confuse or mislead the public”-

            As I stated, calling 62 miles up “space” IS used to distract, confuse, and mislead the public. If you wish to honor that definition that is your choice and you can do so without twisting my words.

        • Joe

          “The fundamental disconnect between NewSpace and real space exploration are these billionaut Tony Stark types that do not have the resources to go anywhere except LEO.”

          Blue Origin is developing its hardware (successfully, so far) for BEO operations. As mentioned above the BE-3 is specifically listed for “in-space” applications.

          You are almost certainly correct that they (by themselves) do not have the resources to mount BEO missions on their own. But they have already signed ULA on board and if they and ULA are successful they will have developed much extremely useful hardware for BEO operations that will be available for programs supported by the government and the government would only have to buy the hardware, not develop it from scratch.

          Since they are doing this with private (not taxpayers) money, why not simply wish them luck and wait to observe what happens.

          • Gary Church

            None of this new hardware is being developed specifically for a Moon return. It may be adaptable but in my view there are really three crucial issues concerning Beyond Earth Orbit operations- and none of them are being addressed directly by the Stark clones.

            The first is the issue of exactly where and in what form the ice on the Moon is located and how accessible it is. Instead of all this tourist nonsense, rovers to find this out and experiment with exploiting the ice with ISRU is the critical need. Cheering on internet billionaire tourist scams is not making this happen.

            The second issue is the exact nature of the volatiles trapped in this ice. This will determine what chemical processes can be used to derive propellents and other useful compounds. Namely methane. Which leads to the third issue that is partially addressed by the ULA IVF technology under development.

            The third issue is what kind of propellents can be derived from lunar ice. If there are volatiles of the right kind in sufficient quantity then methane can be produced which is far easier to handle and store than hydrogen. With only liquid hydrogen to work with the difficulties increase by magnitude. IVF can maintain methane in spacecraft systems indefinitely without much problem but hydrogen presents a whole different set of problems only partially solved with even the optimistic performance of IVF type zero boil off systems.

            A methane fueled robot lunar lander that can use it’s ascent engine to insert a SLS wet workhshop into a lunar “frozen” polar orbit, descend on a set of smaller engines onto an ice field, harvest a load of water and convert some of it into methane and oxygen, return to the workshop to transfer water and then do it all over again till it wears out–this is the technology for BEO operations that is needed.

            Once there are sufficient numbers of these workshops with their radiation shields filled with water in lunar orbit and ready for astronauts then anything happening in LEO becomes….no longer of any interest or value at all. Which is why scenarios like this make a Moon return the kiss of death to NewSpace. Oh yes, they hate the SLS for a reason.

            • Gary Church

              Of course much of this was already figured out long before I thought of it with the LUNEX proposals from the 90’s which someone recently very kindly provided me a link to.

            • Joe

              Three Points:

              (1) The bulk of your post concerns characterization and research into utilization of lunar resources. I agree with all of it.

              (2) I think you are making the assumption that Blue Origin is just another SpaceX.
              Both companies are secretive, so it is hard to know for sure, but I do not think that is necessarily true.

              I do not think the ULA pitch on their Next Generation Launch Vehicle (which would use BE3/BE4) is available on-line yet, but it has clear reference to the BE3 stage being refueled in flight, a clear sign of BEO intentions. That would mean that the engine has been developed from the beginning (at a minimum) as the propulsion system for a crew capable reusable space tug.

              Two other interesting questions.

              – Could it also serve for a lunar landing vehicle?

              – Could it serve on an upper stage for the SLS (remember the Block I SLS is ‘limited to only” 70 Metric tons by the under powered upper stage the current administration will allow, with a more capable second stage that could grow to as much as 100 Metric tons). Such a merger of “New and Old” Space would cause heads to explode in certain quarters, but Blue Origin and ULA are already working together and it might reduce total cost and development time as well as increasing capability.

              (3) They (Blue Origin and now ULA as well) are spending private money on this development. They are neither receiving or asking for government money. Nor are they having their on-line supporters attack the SLS/Orion in hopes of getting that money. So even if you are not convinced these developments will be useful why not wish them luck, watch what happens and hope for the best.

              • Gary Church

                “-you are making the assumption that Blue Origin is just another SpaceX.”

                Again- Any appreciation of historical precedents show government leading the way on new frontiers with private companies following much later after the transportation/security infrastructure has been established by the state. This is exactly the opposite of what NewSpace is pushing. In fact, NewSpace is a tourist scam. Not even that- a carnival ride. Canoeing in a duck pond and calling it crossing the Pacific.-NewSpace sycophants preaching NASA hate and free market miracles are in my view poisoning and killing any possibility of a second space age- and Blue Origin is part of that. Not the fault of the company but that is beside the point.

                “-it has clear reference to the BE3 stage being refueled in flight, a clear sign of BEO intentions.”

                The ULA claim to transferring liquid hydrogen propellent in space is…..bold talk. Start with the necessity of pre-cooling all the transfer plumbing with liquid helium- then it gets worse and I won’t write several paragraphs describing why. Transferring LOX and a similar cryogen like Methane is not easy while Hydrogen is really a nightmare; but physics is not going to change so there is no substitute for using it in upper stages launched from Earth.

                I suspect the ULA strategy to extend their satellite missions is to carry more hydrogen and “refuel” only with LOX- very dense and much less of a challenge to transfer than hydrogen. The rest of their advertisement is in my view mostly hype. That piston engine will extend a mission but is not going to Mars.

                The depot is NewSpace dogma as the miracle cure for the evil old HLV (now re-branded Super Heavy Lift Vehicle)- but I have always tried to expose this farce. All the beautiful numbers quoted are with currently impossible to store high Isp hydrogen and with lesser propellents those numbers do not look so great. Depots cause more problems than they create. Taking lego blocks and a couple gallons of gas at a time into LEO is a fools game and a dead end. It is the shuttle all over again except with even less possibility of accomplishing anything BEO.

                “Could it also serve for a lunar landing vehicle?”

                Going down to the lunar surface and back up to a 50 mile orbit required a very fragile two stage vehicle using hypergolics- which have a pretty good Isp. The ascent engine of the LEM- the RS-18- was tested using methane in the 90’s if I recall. “Adapting” anything as a robot lunar lander is possible but…I doubt anything is going to “serve” to carry humans except something expressly designed for the Moon. Altair was the correct solution- a lander as large as the Earth Departure Stage could push. Of course the NewSpace mob screams about how expensive it was but….there is no cheap.

                • Joe

                  You bring up a number of perhaps valid points, to answer all of them would required more space than is available in these posting boxes.

                  But it really isn’t needed for purposes of this discussion.

                  The question you did not address is:

                  “They (Blue Origin and now ULA as well) are spending private money on this development. They are neither receiving or asking for government money. Nor are they having their on-line supporters attack the SLS/Orion in hopes of getting that money. So even if you are not convinced these developments will be useful why not wish them luck, watch what happens and hope for the best.”

                  • Gary Church

                    “The question you did not address is:-why not wish them luck-”

                    For the third time and I will keep on posting it for anyone who wants to keep trying to accuse me of not defending my position:

                    Any appreciation of historical precedents show government leading the way on new frontiers with private companies following much later after the transportation/security infrastructure has been established by the state. This is exactly the opposite of what NewSpace is pushing. In fact, NewSpace is a tourist scam. Not even that- a carnival ride. Canoeing in a duck pond and calling it crossing the Pacific.-NewSpace sycophants preaching NASA hate and free market miracles are in my view poisoning and killing any possibility of a second space age- and Blue Origin is part of that. Not the fault of the company but that is beside the point.

                    • Joe

                      OK, for the whatever and final time, hypothetically granting that every thing you are saying is true, Blue Origin and ULA are not taking any government money to pursue this development.

                      They are therefore not syphoning off any money from a government backed BEO program (which I agree with you SpaceX and company are doing).

                      So why not just say good luck to them?

                      If you are not going to address that question that is your privilege and I will not ask it again.

                • ” Any appreciation of historical precedents show government leading the way on new frontiers with private companies following much later after the transportation/security infrastructure has been established by the state. ”

                  This is not always true. The very first settlements along the Atlantic coast of what is now the US, it was private companies that took the lead early on and the risks to create the first colonies. The London Company founded Jamestown in Virginia in 1607. The Plymouth Company founded Popham Colony in Maine in 1607. The Dutch East India Company founded what would become New York City in 1609. The Company of Merchant Adventurers of London founded Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1620 while the Massachusetts Bay Company established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1623. And the list goes on and on.

                  Basically the government granted these privately held companies exclusive grants of unsecured virgin territory and colonies were established with the expressed goal of turning a profit for the investors. A contemporary counterpoint to this pattern of settlement was the French colonization of Acadia and Quebec. These were done almost entirely as a government enterprise with a medieval seignorage system (with lords and tenant farmers etc.) set up much as it existed back in France. I believe Spain had a broadly similar system in place in Latin America for settlement (although I readily admit I am not as familiar with the details of their early history).

                  I am not saying one way or another whether a government-led or private company-led or some hybrid is the best model for the settlement BEO. But the past settlement of the North America was hardly just a simple government-led model. It was a lot more complicated than this especially in the early 17th century in its very beginnings.

                  • Gary Church

                    “This is not always true.”

                    Any appreciation of historical precedents show government leading the way on new frontiers with private companies following much later after the transportation/security infrastructure has been established by the state. This is exactly the opposite of what NewSpace is pushing. In fact, NewSpace is a tourist scam. Not even that- a carnival ride. Canoeing in a duck pond and calling it crossing the Pacific.-NewSpace sycophants preaching NASA hate and free market miracles are in my view poisoning and killing any possibility of a second space age- and Blue Origin is part of that. Not the fault of the company but that is beside the point.

                    • History is filled of examples where settlement of new frontiers was not preceded by any government attempt to establish transportation and security infrastructure. In addition to the colonial American examples I previously cited of companies taking the lead of settlement along the northeast American coast in the early 17th century, there are plenty of other examples:

                      Salt Lake City was founded in 1847 before there was any government presence in the area (in fact, it was on the Mexican side of the frontier at the time) never mind a government to establish any sort of infrastructure. In fact it was specifically founded because it was beyond the effective reach of any government at that time (desirable considering how the Mormons had been treated)

                      The Willamette Valley of the Oregon Country was settled starting around 1840 with absolutely no infrastructure in place and no government presence whatsoever. In fact, the only organized presence in the region was a private company, the Hudson Bay Company (which also extracted resources from most of what is western Canada for decades before there was any government presence never mind any government-established infrastructure of any sort). It wasn’t until 1843 that a local provisional government was set up by the new settlers and 1848 before the US Federal government officially organized the territory.

                      The history of the settlement of the American and Canadian west is filled with examples of where groups of private individuals and private companies have settled and developed a frontier and its resources long before the government ever established any sort of presence never mind establish a transportation and security infrastructure.

                      Once again, I am not saying one way or another whether a government-led or private company-led or some hybrid is the best model for the settlement BEO. But your statement that “any appreciation of historical precedents show government leading the way on new frontiers with private companies following much later after the transportation/security infrastructure has been established by the state” is clearly not accurate since there are plenty of examples of the exact opposite occurring over the last four centuries of our frontier history whether you chose to acknowledge it or not.

                    • Gary Church

                      Your insufferable nagging is simple harassment- you continue to post these lengthy replies to my comments instead of posting separate as I have requested. You are a liar and a bully and refuse to leave me alone. Anyone visiting this site is going to see what you are doing and while your NewSpace cronies may enjoy it people will remember- the internet is forever. Enjoy playing your sick game Andrew.

                    • The comment section of this web site is an open forum that allows people to post comments and replies to comments so long as they conform with the site’s posting policy. To the best of my knowledge, posters can not demand that responses to their comments be made only in a particular way or only by certain people. My comment directly addresses a statement you made in one of your comments you posted this open forum. I did so in a civil manner in accordance with the policy of this web site. If you have an issue, please contact the moderator.

    • Tim Andrews

      “The first distraction used to confuse and mislead the public.”

      I believe it would be a much greater confusion and distraction to the public to try and re-define the boundary of space and re-write history books to say that Borman, Lovel and Andrews were the first people in space, and no one but Americans have been in space.

      It’s one thing to stress the value of human exploration beyond low earth orbit, but another to completely deny everything that led up to it and all spaceflight, research and development since.

      • Gary Church

        It’s one thing to redefine a boundary and another to revise history. I am not denying anything- just changing an arbitrary line to a more logical location. No history books need to be rewritten. Pluto is not a planet anymore and Ceres is not an asteroid. I ran into the same kind of resistance to change when I began talking about the shuttle as a Saturn V class vehicle. This infuriated many SpaceX fans who greatly disliked me emphasizing the comparatively massive thrust of the shuttle. But the fact is the shuttle was very close to the Saturn V in lift- it just wasted most of it on wings, landing gear, cargo bay, airframe, etc.

  • Gary Church

    “Halfway to anywhere in the solar system” is not 200 miles up, it is 20,000 miles up.

    “-the corporate welfare abomination developed in the mid-2000’s that is NASA’s COTS and CCP programs.”

    -NewSpace hype is the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration-

    Jim Hillhouse (editor of this site) commented on “corporate welfare” and it is THAT issue that really lights my fire and drives me to discourse on NewSpace. The public comes to these websites looking for information and conversation. What they get and the “trickle-down” effect it has on public opinion is what troubles me.

    Many aspects of space technology are counter-intuitive and thus lend themselves to manipulation and intentional misinformation. By far the most misunderstood and intentionally distorted aspect of space exploration is governmental involvement. Having been in the military and after following DOD projects for decades I can tell you with no reservations at all that defense spending is why we have no space program. Cold war toys are easy money and spaceships are hard money and that is why NASA Human Space Flight has a tragicomic budget compared to even minor league DOD money holes. This is the very first most basic and fundamental fact that anyone interested in space exploration must understand to have a true perspective. And this first intrinsic reality is distorted and used as the primary propaganda device of NewSpace: Screaming cheap.

    There are many analogies that would enlighten concerning this but I have found that any use of analogy in such discussions brings on a cascade of confusing and misleading examples. So that leaves just sticking to facts but these are no match for the many “facts” propagated by NewSpace fans over the years that are not facts at all but more misinformation or simply infomercial advertisements. When someone attempts to expose obvious devices then screaming cheap is inevitably resorted to: Who is going to pay for it? Congress did not vote for it! There is no money! etc. etc. ad infinitum.

    We have the money- the DOD budget is proof of that.

    It is Orwellian that NewSpace fans characterize their flagship companies as free market miracles when the reality is the opposite. The government specification for Super Heavy Lift Vehicles capable of sending worthwhile payloads Beyond Earth Orbit is demonized as “corporate welfare” and “pork” when the history books say the exact opposite. Unless you think landing on the Moon was a hoax. Any appreciation of historical precedents show government leading the way on new frontiers with private companies following much later after the transportation/security infrastructure has been established by the state. This is exactly the opposite of what NewSpace is pushing. In fact, NewSpace is a tourist scam. Not even that- a carnival ride. Canoeing in a duck pond and calling it crossing the Pacific.

    The proof for me is simple- the great need as a basic building block of expanding the human presence into space has always been a pressure-fed “big dumb booster” in the 10 million pound thrust range. This type of hardware, a pair of reusable first stage “methane monsters” for example, recovered at sea in the manner of the shuttle SRB’s, is what is required but never happens. Not in the last half century and not now. The necessary step after Apollo was a launch vehicle with at least triple the lift-off thrust.

    There was the thin- but justifiable- excuse that a Moon base was not logistically practical because of a lack of water. That changed in 2010. What is happening now is a concerted effort to STOP expansion into space using a state-sponsored public works program. Read that last sentence closely because it cannot be construed.

    Three examples of the “counter-intuitive” nature of space technology:

    1. There is only one propulsion system for many decades to come that is practical for interplanetary travel- nuclear pulse propulsion (atomic bombs). Chemical propulsion is useless outside of cislunar space (but nuclear energy cannot be used near-Earth or in the magnetosphere/cislunar space so chemical propulsion is also indispensable). Stan Ulam and Freeman Dyson figured that out.

    2. Natural bodies other than Earth are completely unsuitable for human habitation- the only practical habitats for humanity in space are mega-structures; miles in diameter, spinning, hollow artificial moons constructed from lunar material. Gerard K. O’Neill figured that out.
    Mars is a public relations gimmick.

    3. Cosmic radiation makes massive shielding (500 tons of plastic or water for a small capsule) mandatory for any long duration missions beyond LEO. This elephant in the room is slowly being appreciated as the possibility of actually sending humans into real space again approaches as SLS/Orion progresses. Lifting thousands of tons of tap water out of Earth’s gravity well is a non-starter. The ice on the Moon should be the central focus of all Human Space Flight advocates.
    Eugene Parker figured that out and Paul Spudis could explain about the ice on the Moon.

    LEO is dead end and all these inferior lift conveyances are useless for taking human beings above the Van Allen belts into space. LEO is not space. That most of the public thinks these hobby rockets are the U.S. space program is a huge red flag.

  • Gary Church

    One of the singular great contemporary passages concerning space exploration was written by Robert Zubrin in a book promoting space travel. I do not support Mars colonization and am thus not a fan but I greatly admire and endorse his view in this case. Zubrin uses the example of the Chinese destroying their fleet of superships as a political policy in a damning evaluation of the U.S. space program. He stated correctly that if not for this event history might be very different and makes an excellent case for comparing this to the U.S. is making the same mistake with space policy.

    Presently we have the wealth, organization, and technological base to build our superships and open the solar system to development and human colonization. There is no guarantee that will last and any degradation of the existing Heavy Lift Infrastructure is damage that will cost far more to repair than it does to maintain. This is why we have the SLS. The NewSpace sycophants preaching NASA hate and free market miracles are in my view poisoning and killing any possibility of a second space age and bright future for space development. Public works projects that could end poverty and environmental degradation like Space Solar Power are impossible if the NewSpace LEO business plan is followed. In my view they are misdirecting the public away from the best possible course.

    The Blue Origin launch using their own hydrogen-oxygen engine is interesting but in my view- it is not a good thing. In the case of the hardware needed for escaping the Earth’s gravitational field competition is not a good thing. We already have the most powerful solid fuel and hydrogen oxygen engines on planet Earth- we just need to use them to go someplace. Tony Stark is not a good thing. None of it is good.

  • john hare

    This flight is an excellent example of the strengths of free enterprise when properly applied. All the other companies going for suborbital flights are using a different approach from Blue Origin. I would have chosen a different fuel and flight regime myself. By choosing and developing the systems they think best, each company is betting on the future. Reality will arbitrate the winners and losers with very little input from us in the peanut gallery. As long as there is more than one company pursuing more than one approach, we will all win in the end when reality decides which approach is the best, or if multiple approaches are. Hopefully, Blue Origin will be one of the scouts others follow by developing hardware and markets without subsidy. Good on you Blue Origin. I’ve never followed your progress before, but I will now.

    If several entities can successfully develop real markets in LEO that have high demand, we will see an increase in activity that is unprecedented in the space age. If the competition gets the cost down enough, there will be applications that none of us currently foresee that will be feasible to investigate. As an entrepreneur myself, I can state with fair certainty that it is not the cost of successful investments that count, it is minimizing the costs of the failures. When it is cheap enough to fail, it will be cheap enough to risk investigating the long shots. That’s when our horizons will open up.

    If LEO activity expands with multiple players, there will be excess capacity looking for markets. BEO activity will expand from that point. The moon, near Earth asteroids, Oneal colonies, and the rest will follow affordability. So here’s to you Blue Origin, keep your jets hot, skin cool, and wheels in the wells.

  • Jerold Worden

    Exciting new era.
    Congratulations from an old Saturn, Titan IIIC and Shuttle mechanical engineer.

  • Tracy the Troll

    I think that this is exciting, very exciting stuff as now we know why all the issues with the barge landing patent by Blue Origin and SpaceX…Blue Origin really does have a program! Hopefully Jeff Bezos can stay cash liquid long enough to see the cash flow from his space projects…. I say the more the merrier ….Maybe at this rate with all this competition for tourists, within 5 years it will only cost $1,000 to go to sub orbital space…Like a cruise vacation…I hope I Hope!!!

  • Edgar

    Hard to get excited given how slowly they’ve progressed compared to SpaceX. At this rate, they’ll finally have a manned suborbital flight by 2054.

    • Edgar, it bears mentioning Blue Origin hasn’t had the nearly billion in past, and the $2.6B in future, federal money. Given that, I think Blue Origin’s progress is all the more impressive. And that a company has made it this far privately raises the issue of why NASA must fund either of Boeing’s or SpaceX’s efforts. Expect this point to gain more traction with Congressional appropriators going forward.

      Also, the pressurized volume differences will make Blue Origin a worthy competitor to Boeing and SpaceX for crew and cargo missions. At 530 ft^3, Blue Origin’s reusable spacecraft dwarfs both the CST-100 and Dragon 2 and is only exceeded by NASA’s Orion. Being able to launch crew and cargo at the same time means fewer launches for the same payload outcome. From a station and launch site management point-of-view, that is a plus.