Jeff Bezos Says The New Shepard Will Soar Next on Sunday. Here’s How to Watch It Live.

The 8th test flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket – a major step towards the development of space tourism – will be live-streamed today.

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Pardon My Vomit: Zero G Ettiquette In the Age Of Space Tourism

With multiple commercial aerospace companies offering flights into space, to the Moon, and even beyond, would-be passengers are starting to train for the likelihood of “space sickness”.

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Take a Peek Inside Blue Origin’s New Shepard Crew Capsule

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos provided a sneak peek today into the interior of the New Shepard crew capsule, the suborbital vehicle for space tourism. He released a few images which illustrate what the flight experience might be like on board. “Our New Shepard flight test program is focused on demonstrating the performance and robustness […]

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Odds Are Blue Origin Launch Test Will End In Fiery Destruction: Watch Live

New Shepard Pusher Escape System. Credit: Blue Origin.

The last time an in-flight escape system test for a crew capsule took place was during the Apollo program, in 1966. Now, you can watch live as Blue Origin tests the escape system for their New Shepard rocket on Wednesday, October 5, 2016 at 10:45 a.m. ET. The test was originally planned for today (Tuesday) but was postponed because of inclement weather.

As founder Jeff Bezos described the test, “Our next flight is going to be dramatic, no matter how it ends.” If all goes well, the crew capsule (empty, this time) should land rather gently. The likely end for the rocket booster, however, will be its destruction in a ball of flames.

Dramatic, indeed.

Although the New Shepard has already launched successfully four times since November 2015, this fifth flight will test the system to protect future passengers from any anomaly during launch. Unlike the Apollo escape system that used an escape “tower” motor located on top of the capsule to ‘pull’ the crew cabin away from a failing booster, New Shepard’s escape system is mounted underneath the capsule, to ‘push’ the capsule away from a potentially exploding booster.

As the video below from Blue Origin explains, “Like the airbag in your car, this full envelope capsule escape system is always there if needed.” Bezos also described the test in an email:

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. Its three drogue parachutes will deploy near the top of its flight path, followed shortly thereafter by main parachutes.

While SpaceX successfully tested their escape system in May 2015, it wasn’t an in-flight test. The Crew Dragon spacecraft abort system was launched off a specially built platform at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. The engines fired for about six seconds, instantly producing about 15,000 pounds of thrust each and lifting the spacecraft out over the Atlantic Ocean and parachuting safely into the water.

Bezos said that while they’d really like to retire this New Shepard booster and put it in a museum, that’s probably not a possibility.

“It’s the first ever rocket booster to fly above the Karman line into space and then land vertically upon the Earth,” he said. “But the booster was never designed to survive an in-flight escape. The capsule escape motor will slam the booster with 70,000 pounds of off-axis force delivered by searing hot exhaust. The aerodynamic shape of the vehicle quickly changes from leading with the capsule to leading with the ring fin, and this all happens at maximum dynamic pressure.”

Monte Carlo simulations show there’s some chance the booster can survive those stresses and land vertically as it’s done previously. But probably not. There will still be propellant on board and if it lands hard, as expected, Bezos said “its impact with the desert floor will be most impressive.”

You can access the live feed on Blue Origin’s website.

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Blue Origin Goes Big With New Glenn Rocket

Size comparison between the New Glenn and all other rockets currently in operations (with the Saturn V for comparison). Credit: Blue Origin

Space exploration is becoming a lucrative domain for private aerospace companies (aka. the NewSpace industry). With opportunities for launch and resupply services growing, costs dwindling, and the cancellation of the Space Shuttle Program, private companies have been stepping up in recent years to provide their own launch vehicles and services to fill the gap.

Take Jeff Bezos, for example. Back in 2000, the founder of Amazon.com created Blue Origin to fulfill his lifelong dream of colonizing space. For years, Bezos and the company he founded have been working to produce their own fleet of reusable rockets. And as the morning of Monday, Sept. 12th, he unveiled their newest and heaviest rocket – the New Glenn.

Much like SpaceX, Blue Origin has been committed to the creation of reusable rocket technology. This was made clear with the development of the New Shepard suborbital rocket, which was unveiled in 2006. Named in honor of the first American astronaut to go into space (Alan Shepard), this rocket made its first flight in April of 2015 and has had an impressive record, nailing four out of five soft landings in the space of just over a year.

With the New Glenn – named in honor of astronaut John Glenn, the first astronaut to orbit the Earth – the company now intends to take the next step, offering launch services beyond Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) and for crewed missions. As Bezos said during the press conference:

“New Glenn is designed to launch commercial satellites and to fly humans into space. The three-stage variant-with its high specific impulse hydrogen upper stage—is capable of flying demanding beyond-LEO missions.”

According to Bezos, Blue Origin will have both a two-stage and three-stage variant of the rocket. Whereas the two-stage will provide heavier lift capacity to LEO, the three-stage will be able to reach further, and will the company’s go-to when sending crewed missions into space. Work on the rocket began back in 2012, and the company hopes to make their first launch prior to 2020.

As Bezos said during the unveiling, this rocket carries on in the same tradition that inspired the creation of the New Shepard:

“Building, flying, landing, and re-flying New Shepard has taught us so much about how to design for practical, operable reusability. And New Glenn incorporates all of those learnings. Named in honor of John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, New Glenn is 23 feet in diameter and lifts off with 3.85 million pounds of thrust from seven BE-4 engines. Burning liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen, these are the same BE-4 engines that will power United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket.”

The rocket will have a sea-level thrust of 1.746 kg (3.85 million lbs), placing it ahead of the Delta IV Heavywhich has a sea-level thrust of about 900,000 kg (2 million lbs) – but behind the 2.268 million kg (5 million lbs) of the Falcon Heavy. Both variants will be powered by BE-4 engines, which are also manufactured by Blue Origin. The third-stage also employs a single vacuum-optimized BE-3 engine that burns liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

However, the most interesting facet of the New Glenn is the fact that it will be reusable, with its first stage providing braking thrust and deployable legs (similar to the Falcon 9). In creating a heavy lift rocket that employs a retrievable first-stage, Blue Origin has signaled its intent to give SpaceX a run for its money when it comes to the development of reusable rocket technology.

It is also likely to raise the company’s profile, which has so far been limited to conducting sub-orbital research for NASA and dabbling in the space-tourism industry. But once the New Glenn is up and running, it is likely to begin securing contracts to provide resupply services the ISS, as well as contracts with companies and research institutions to place satellites in orbit.

According to The Verge, Bezos also hinted that his company has another project in mind – called the New Armstrong. While no details have been given just yet, the name of this rocket is a clear allusion to the Moon Landing, and hints that the company may have designs on possible moon missions in the coming decades.

This is an exciting time for the NewSpace industry. In the coming months, SpaceX is expected to conduct the first launch of the Falcon Heavy, which will be the most powerful rocket built in the US since the retirement of the Apollo program’s Saturn V launcher. And if they keep to their current schedule, Blue Origin will be following this in a few years time with the launch of the largest rocket of the post-Apollo era.

Big rockets and big lift capacities can mean only thing: big things lie ahead of us!

Further Reading: ArsTechnica, The Verge, Blue Origin

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Bezos Is Building A House For His Big Brother

Artist concept of Blue Origin's 750,000 square foot spacecraft factory. Credit: Blue Origin.

Blue Origin and its founder Jeff Bezos do a little one-upmanship on the old saying, “go big or go home.” With the groundbreaking of their new orbital vehicle manufacturing complex, they are going big AND going home. The new facility will be located near Kennedy Space Center in Florida and will house Blue Origin’s orbital launch vehicle, which Bezos has sometimes referred to as “Very Big Brother.” The new facility has a planned grand opening of December 2017.

Blue Origin announced the plans for the complex in September 2015, and bulldozers started clearing ground this week (June 28, 2016). The facility will be where Blue Origin manufactures, processes, integrates and tests its rockets.

“It’s exciting to see the bulldozers in action,” Bezos wrote in an email update. “We’re clearing the way for the production of a reusable fleet of orbital vehicles that we will launch and land, again and again.”

Bezos said the 750,000 square foot (70,000 sq. meter) building will be “custom-built from the ground up” and will enable “large scale friction stir welding and automated composite processing equipment,” among other things.

The entire launch vehicle will be manufactured in this new facility except for the engines, the BE-4 — which Blue Origin says will be flight qualified by 2017 — and are currently produced in Blue Origin’s Kent, Washington facility. But they plan to build a new, larger engine production facility to accommodate their projected need for higher production rates, and they will conduct a site selection process for that facility later this year.

Another little one-upmanship: Blue Origin’s new facility will best SpaceX’s main factory, which is about 550,000 square feet (51,000 sq. meters). SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California building was originally used by Boeing to build 747 fuselages.

Very Big Brother (VBB) will get an official name at some point, but it will be a vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) system, like Blue Origin’s smaller suborbital New Shepard rocket. The plan is to have VBB’s lower stage be reusable and the upper stage be expendable.

For launches, Blue Origin will share Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 36 with Google Lunar X PRIZE team Moon Express (MoonEx).

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Boeing Rejects Aerojet-Rocketdyne Bid for ULA and Affirms Vulcan Rocket Support, Lockheed Martin Noncommittal

Boeing has officially and publicly rejected a bid by Aerojet-Rocketdyne to buy rocket maker United Launch Alliance (ULA), which the firm co-owns with rival aerospace giant Lockheed-Martin. Furthermore Boeing affirmed support for ULA’s new next generation Vulcan rocket now under development, a spokesperson confirmed to Universe Today. Aerojet-Rocketdyne, which supplies critical rocket engines powering ULA’s […]